Does Everyone Love The Big Reveal? Why a surprise may lose you the pitch

The word surprise is usually looked at positively, some great thing that is going to happen that you will love.

Creative people have been using the big reveal in pitches for years.  They love the idea of a build-up and a big surprise when they’re pitching work to a client.  “Ta-da!  Here is our big idea.”

The reality is different; we don’t generally like to be caught off guard or taken by surprise.

Television programmes built around the big reveal are a good example of the reaction to surprise.  First everyone ooohs and ahhhhs, then we see some tears.  It works to make good TV because it capitalizes on capturing the emotion as people are caught unprepared and lose their composure.

In today’s business culture surprises are highly discouraged.  Your boss doesn’t want to be caught unprepared, even if it’s good news. It implies he wasn’t across that bit of the business.   He definitely doesn’t want a nasty surprise, like you can’t deliver on time or that the budget has gotten out of control, highlighting something he wasn’t on top of.

At work no one wants to be caught out and we certainly don’t want to lose it, look confused or indecisive, in front of the team.

So why do we forget all that when it comes to pitches?

Pitching ideas to clients
There are various ways to pitch but the perennial favourite of building up to a big reveal is still popular with a lot of agencies.

Unfortunately, some clients hate that.  They don’t want to feel like a deer in headlights.  They don’t want to be kept in the dark about what to expect.

They worry that they won’t understand the idea or that you’ll use references to a movie scene, an actor or a song they don’t know and they’ll be embarrassed.

Many don’t like the idea that you’ll show them the big surprise and then turn expectantly to capture their first impression, before they’ve had a chance to really think it through.

As an agency you’ve had time to think, challenge, and refine your ideas before you present.  You’ve had time to get comfortable with it.

Yet we think holding our cards close and springing our idea on the client will improve our chances of getting an approval.

Nothing could be farther from the truth

Plant the seeds early
Some agencies are changing their approach, but if you’re still using the big reveal it is worth rethinking that process.

You don’t have to give away the game, leaving nothing new and fresh for the pitch.  Think about how you can seed your idea throughout the development process.

Some agencies use tissue meeting to review a raft of rough ideas to get the client’s input.  These are low key, conversational and don’t put the client on the spot.

If that isn’t your agency’s style, or you don’t have time, you can still seed your ideas in conversations.

Telling your client you were thinking of using animation and letting a character represent them, is planting a seed.  Giving them a frame of reference to look at early or explaining how your thinking has connected their brief to your work, are more seeds.

Anything you can do in the run up to the presentation that will help your client feel confident and relaxed will improve your odds of getting an approval.

Yes, you lose the chance to catch them off guard, revealing their true thoughts and emotions.  And you risk that they may have an opinion about your work before they’ve seen the whole package.

But wouldn’t you rather have a considered, informed discussion about the way forward, than a client who is backing away from you because they aren’t sure what to think?

It’s been said there are no good surprises in business, that’s worth keeping in mind when you pitch.  Giving clients hints of what’s to come isn’t giving away the game, it’s nurturing a path to approval.

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