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The Art of the Pitch: Persuasion and Presentation Skills That Win Business by Peter Coughter

December 23, 2015


Peter Coughter is an instructor at my alma mater, the VCU Brandcenter (formerly Adcenter), one of the most respected advertising schools in the country (thanks mostly to the talented students who have gone through since I graduated). Peter is a well-respected expert on new business pitches and presentation skills. Here, he shares many of his tips.

It is no secret in advertising, as in many other fields, that the quality of an idea is only a part of making it happen. There will be, except in very rare cases, people who need to agree that it’s a great idea. Sometimes those people are clients, sometimes they are coworkers or bosses, sometimes investors. Whatever the case, you must convince someone that it’s a great idea. I tell the people who work for me and the students in my advertising classes that, unfortunately, good ideas do not sell themselves. A huge part of the job is presentation. Presenting an idea in a way that, if it’s a commercial for example, the audience of your presentation sees the commercial as vividly as if they were watching the fully produced version on the screen. They can imagine the potential for how good it can be, how well it answers the communication strategy, how well it solves their business problems, because you are laying all that out for them. Peter Coughter’s book covers all the fundamentals for such a successful presentation.

Some of the things he covers are basic to any presentation—things like eye contact, clear and connected talking points, simple slides (one of my favorite anecdotes is of the great planner Jon Steel delivering a 90-minute new business presentation off of just six slides, and five of the slides only had one word each). But some are more philosophical, like the idea that the audience is really buying you as much as they’re buying your idea. He encourages us to not be Mr. Presenter Guy, but to be ourselves. To be authentic. “We need to make a human connection—a bond that’s based on emotion. In order to make that connection, we must be honest, open and sincere.” He shares the advice of the legendary Mike Hughes, longtime creative head of The Martin Agency: “The four things clients want the most are Insight, Conviction, Wisdom and Courage.” Coughter builds on this: “The key to communicating those attributes is thoughtfulness. Clients want to work with smart people who care about their business. Not people who want to do cool ads.” This is about presentation because good presentation is about being genuine. Not about “selling” an idea, but about truly believing in an idea and then convincing someone that it is the right idea. You can only do that, honestly, if you actually believe in the idea and deliver it not as your presentation persona, but as yourself.

The Art of the Pitch also contains very valuable and insightful guidelines about how to run a new business pitch—the mother of all advertising presentations. Some very practical guidelines, like what should happen at what stage of the process, and again some more philosophical things like knowing what your agency stands for and having a point of view.

Beyond all the great advice in this book, what makes it even better are the stories from some of the legends of the industry. People like Jeff Goodby, Alex Bogusky, Bill Westbrook, Mark Fenske, Hal Curtis and Jon Steel, just to name a few. For those not in the industry, those are all hall of famers.

After reading this book, I ordered a dozen to pass out to my creative department. Anyone who has to present as part of their job will benefit from this book. For anyone in the ad industry, this should be considered a must-read.

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