“I’m Not an Expert, but I Think…” The Challenge of Client Pitches.

by Ross Fishman
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In this brilliant one-minute clip (click here), Mad Men captures precisely how Pitch Meetings can go tragically wrong, in any industry or organization.  And this definitely including law and professional-services firms.

Helpful ad executive Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) has been persuaded to bring her significant professional talents to the flyer for a middle-school dance.  She pitches her expert creative work to two classic church ladies.

… who suggest changes.  De-provements, of course.

This hilariously painful excerpt shows precisely what happens when the client is not in a position to make a good decision.  Peggy’s muted reaction shots are wonderful.

These two old ladies (the event’s Marketing Committee) have no experience, are not the target audience, and can’t possibly recognize how good her work is.  But of course, they have no compunction about insisting upon significant revisions.  And once the first one expresses a concern, the second one jumps on board with her own, and the well-intentioned but equally inexperienced priest enables it.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, which to them feel entirely valid — regardless of their lack of expertise or foundation.

Here, Peggy wasn’t able to persuade her “clients,” the church ladies, that they should accept her opinion as the expert.  Clients won’t simply “take your word for it.”  I’ve never met a lawyer who would say, “I hate it, but you’re the expert, so we’ll do what you recommend.”  They shouldn’t — it’s our job as the subject-matter experts to provide them with the education necessary to make an informed decision.  It takes a lot longer, but it’s one of the most-important steps in the process.

A smart client is the best kind of client.  That is, if we actually have the right answer, the real solution to their problem, then someone who is sufficiently educated should recognize that.  So we have to teach them, to put them in a position to make a good decision. And only then should we show them what we’re recommending.

Fortunately, lawyers learn fast.  My mantra is, “Lawyers get it the first time, they just haven’t had the class.”

That’s why when we pitch a new marketing campaign or creative platform for a new website, I insist on being able to give them a PPT presentation in which I give them the education they need before showing them anything we’ve developed.  It only takes ~20 minutes – but it’s often the most-important 20 minutes they’ll spend in their marketing committee that year.

It’s what enables us to turn the website from an online brochure no one will read, into something that helps them take over the world.

From Season Two.

Written by:

Ross Fishman
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