The Power of an Artful Pitch

On day as we both pushed our young daughters on the swings in a neighborhook park, Raymond McKinney (a CD at The Martin Agency) told me “Good work that is presented like shit… is shit.” Luckily our daughters were both too young to pick up on the colorful language that gave flavor to that GREAT advice. I often recall those wise words, and I usually flip the quote around 180 degrees. It then takes on a little different meaning:  “Any work that is presented real well… is better work.”

Learn how to present work from the master, Peter Coughter.

Getting people to buy an idea takes two important things:  1) a good idea, and 2) a good presentation. Too often we focus so much on the idea an how the idea looks, that we forget to make sure the work is presented well.

One of the best presenters in the ad business is Peter Coughter, a colleague of mine at VCU. For years he has been inspiring young minds on the art of the presentation in his class called “Persuasion” (MASC-664) at the VCU Brandcenter.

I have never sat in on his classes, but it’s been a wish of mine for years. His work is that good. In January we’re all going to get the opportunity to learn from this master. Buy his book now, and it will make all of your work a lot better.

“The Art of the Pitch: Persuasion and Presentation Skills that Win Business”

by Peter Coughter

Release date:  January 3, 2012

Communicating With Relevance

Damage from Hurricane Ike in Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip / September 15, 2008)

Many companies have a hard time connecting their brand messages to consumers. It’s hard to get people to care about what a company wants to say. Often the problem is not that the information is not worthy of people’s attention. Often the problem is that companies communicate in ways that the audience cannot easily relate to.

I recently ran across an example that illustrates my point. Hurricane Ike hit Texas hard a few weeks ago.

Some of the new descriptions of the impact of Ike are:

• “Hurricane Ike battered Galveston with 110 mph winds and a 12-foot storm surge and has been blamed for 61 deaths, including 26 in Texas.” And, “Texas is looking at $11.4 billion in damages from Ike.” Dallas Morning News.

• “Thousands of homes and government buildings flooded, roads were washed out, 2.9 million people lost power and several fires burned unabated as crews could not reach them.” Associated Press.

• “Galveston Island and other coastal areas took the brunt of Hurricane Ike and many areas look like war zones, with collapsed houses and buildings, flooded neighborhoods, and downed trees and power lines.” Voice of America.

(AFP/Getty photo by Smiley N. Pool / September 14, 2008)

(AFP/Getty photo by Smiley N. Pool / September 14, 2008)

These are smart ways for news organizations to describe the storm; their goal is to accurately inform. However, these are amounts that nobody can visualize or understand. How much is $11 billion? What are 110-mph winds like? How big is 2.9 million people without power? It’s too far from people’s ability to comprehend. It’s abstract even though it is a real, valid, and accurate way to describe the devastation from Hurricane Ike. But how can the destruction be understood?

“Made To Stick” is an excellent book about effectively communicating ideas. My friend, Bill Chapman gave me a copy. The authors say to communicate effectively, an idea must be concrete (among other things). Ideas are not described well with abstractions. Look at the photo showing one house standing in what was a ocean-side community. That photo is concrete. $11 billion is accurate, but not concrete.

Unfortunately, too often companies’ messages are based on the facts ($11 billion, 110-mph winds, 61 deaths, 2.9 million without power). Companies are not news agencies. They should be trying to connect with people… not inform them.

A single home is left standing among debris from Hurricane Ike on September 14, 2008 in Gilchrist, Texas. The Boston Globe does a good job of communicating visually. (photo by David J. Phillip-Pool/Getty Images).

This image tells of the devastation from Hurricane Ike in a way that we can relate with. It's concrete. "A single home is left standing among debris from Hurricane Ike on September 14, 2008 in Gilchrist, Texas." The Boston Globe does a good job of communicating visually. (photo by David J. Phillip-Pool/Getty Images).

Truth and Understanding in Advertising

A religious group wants to promote peace and understanding. They want to wipe out prejudice and fear. They are doing it by spending their own money. And they are getting grief.

Is the message bad, false, intended to hurt or harm? No.  Are the communications offensive or irresponsible? No.  Then what is the problem?

This is one of the ads in the campaign in from the Islamic Circle of America.

This is one of the ads in the campaign in from the Islamic Circle of America. (image from

The only problem with the ad campaign in the NYC subway system (from CNN and from NPR) is that the ad is promoting Islam, a religion based on peace, love, and all of the other good stuff that most religions are based upon. The problem is that many famous acts of terror in the last 30 years have been from groups claiming Islamic ties. It is estimated that there are about 1.3 billion Muslims in the world today (according to Reuters) . That’s a lot! It’s the world’s largest religion. If all Muslims were terrorist, the world would have been a different place a long time ago.

In the NPR story, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) rose to the ads’ defense and said it was an unfounded case of guilt by association.

Let’s compare the ads from the Islamic Circle of North America (see photo) to the ads from Barak Obama and from John McCain. Which ad campaigns should be censored?

• An ad from Barak Obama says that McCain predicts the Iraq war will be a “100-year war.” McCain never said that.

• An ad from John McCain ad says that Obama supported “legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergarteners.” The truth is that Obama supported a law to teach kids about predators and inappropriate touching. Another ad from McCain says that Sarah Palin put the Alaska Governor’s jet on eBay. It didn’t sell on eBay; a broker eventually sold it for a loss to Alaska. McCain intentionally doesn’t tell you the last part of the story.

Who should be censored?  Which advertising should be in question?

Let’s have more ads like those from the Islamic Circle!  Let’s encourage all religions to spread the word of peace, love, knowledge, and understanding. And for those who knowingly produce ads with lies and half-truths, let’s say they cannot hold public office.

••• thanks to my colleague Richard Rumble for telling me about the ICNA ad campaign •••