How to sell ideas

A decade ago I got a business lesson I’ll never forget. A vital one for people who trade in ideas, creative output, concepts and the like.

At the time, I was working as the head of strategy in a large advertising outfit. We were in a meeting where we got briefed about a new product which we had to launch to the market with a new advertising campaign. During the meeting I came up with a killer advertising idea and copy line. I was thrilled I came up with it on the spot and suggested it to the client. As I expected they all thought it was amazing and loved it. But when I looked across to my CEO at the time – he didn’t seem very happy at all. I was a bit thrown, the client loved it, it was clearly an incredible idea – so why didn’t he like it? It all became clear when we left the room.

Driving back to our office this is what he said to me:

“You probably cost us a few million dollars in there” I was confused, he went on. “The idea you presented was amazing. But now we have a problem. Clients have a hard time accepting the first idea you present – even if it is the best one they’ll hear. Now they are going to expect something better when we go back and work on the creative. Worse, they wouldn’t want to pay us for the original idea. The fact that that we solved it immediately – to them, it’s like we haven’t done any real work. It doesn’t matter that it took you twenty years of thought and training for you come up with that creative solution. They need to feel like it has been worked on. So, now we will struggle to come up with anything better, and if we go back with our first idea as our final idea – they won’t want to ‘buy it’ because it was fast and simple.” He then went on to say. “Next time keep your powder dry. If you come up with something amazing in the room – bite your tongue. While clients should be focused on how good something is, often they align value with how long something took.”

I never forgot that. Although sometimes I still can’t help myself and give away my ideas on the future with clients in the first meeting. I just can’t help myself and I get too excited and tell them what they should do and why.

If you are in a creative field – never forget your ability to solve problems quickly is because you’ve invested years thinking about it and being in the game. And if you want to get paid for the thinking that you have done and do – remember it is Ok to have ideas and hold them back until it is the right time to share them.

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Keep Thinking,