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The Inside Man: Life’s a pitch

Simon Waters on how a good pitch has the power to change minds, and a great pitch has the power to change outcomes.

I was trying to calculate how many pitches I’ve given or sat in over the years, and I came to the conclusion – through deep scientific discovery – that’s it’s probably somewhere north of 10,000, give or take a few. Yeah, I know, that’s a heck of a lot.

Our industry is fueled by the pitch – how else do we open doors, filter options, decipher and choose between all the alternatives out there?

A good pitch has the power to change minds. A great pitch has the power to change outcomes.

To this day, I am fascinated by how often the importance of a pitch is overlooked as a strategic tool. As someone who’s been on the retail buy side, and on the sell side for major brands and studios, I’ve learnt one big thing about pitching, and it’s this: Don’t think of pitching as selling. Think of pitching as helping someone make a decision.

A great pitch is a service to your audience, not a whack on the head with a sales hammer. I know this because early in my career, I wielded a few of those hammers too! Today, I can’t tell you the number of keynotes and pitches I’ve sat in, where I felt forgotten, desperately wanting to check email instead.

When a pitch is built with a sale as the outcome in mind (99% of most pitches I see), the danger is the passion trap. I see it all the time. A pitch so excited by its content that it gets lost in its own inflated story. The pitch becomes a mirror – audience be damned.

When a pitch is built to help someone make a decision, the flow, approach, message and content changes dramatically and so does the outcome. It doesn’t matter if the receiving party is a licensor, licensee, retailer, brand, investor, client, boss, colleague or your grandma, pitches that give the audience the information they need to say yes, have a much better chance of winning.

A great pitch tells a story for me; a clear purpose, a problem I’m facing identified by a solution that takes my pain away, rippling with clear competitive insights, demonstrable creative spark, business model options that make sense, execution plans that are doable, and commercial rationale that meets my needs. And absolutely not more than 15 slides! Engaging, tight and delivered as a service, not a sale. Heck, even enjoyable to be a part of.

In every organisation I have ever worked for, the first thing I do is ask to see copies of all sales materials; be they paper, digital or video, and I sit in as many sales presentations as I can.

Nine times out of ten, I am left wanting. It’s not through fault of the individual, but the structure and the flow of the pitch for the audience they are trying to engage.

As your Inside Man, my tip for this month is to spend as much time as you can with the sales side of your licensing business, and take a look at it from the other side of your table. Then ask yourself or your team this:

In the world of the pitch, context is king. Does our pitch provide the necessary information for our audience to make a decision in our favour?

It might not sound like a particularly sexy question, but trust me when I say that it’s highly likely to uncover what your audience really needs – or uncover that you didn’t really know what they needed, and had better find out fast.

Simon Waters runs World Builder, a licensing and content brand accelerator, and is the founder of The Licensing Insiders, a connected collective of senior licensing executives who deliver incremental revenue and brand growth for their clients without the overhead of in-house or agency teams.

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