How To Be Better At Pitching Yourself
Illustration by Ms Giovanna Giuliano
A new book for anyone looking to sell their ideas.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of Life’s A Pitch – a seminal tome on the art of selling one’s ideas – by British ad man Mr Roger Mavity and co-founder of the Design Museum, Mr Stephen Bayley. Despite the staggering advances in technology since its first publication, the book’s central premise – that every opportunity and success in life comes down to a canny blend of persuasion, charm and seduction – rings as true as ever.
Life’s A Pitch is the most selfish of self-help books, because it deals with how to win life’s prizes. It does not offer cod spirituality, work-life balance or self actualisation, nor does it try to tell you how to be a better man. It promises victory by persuasion, seduction and charm, and appeals primarily to our desire for money, sex and status. History, it is often said, is written by the victors, and so underneath the book’s sly wit, superficial charm and low cunning, lurks an attempt to understand how human nature really works, not just how we want it to. To wit, it is a book of both style and substance.
To mark the 10-year anniversary of Life’s A Pitch, we asked Mr Roger Mavity to explain how the advice contained within the book can be used to help you win in 2017.
Understand your audience
“[Mr Donald] Trump… won [the 2016 US presidential election] against the odds because he understood his audience,” says Mr Mavity. “Most politicians are terrified of offending, and so end up not saying anything. Trump was the opposite. He identified that core vote and set his goal to focus on them. And he was prepared to be vile. ‘Make America Great Again’ gave hope and resonated with that audience, and he hammered that message home.
“When Hillary [Clinton] told him in one of the presidential debates: ‘But America is already great’ – that was when I knew she had lost. She might as well have said, ‘Vote for me, nothing will change’. Dr Samuel Johnson observed: ‘Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement” in 1759. Hillary had no promise. Dissatisfaction is a huge part of any pitch, and you must identify it. The medicine only becomes desirable when the illness is acute.”
“One of the ways in which the ad industry has changed is that people are far worse dressed. We’ve gone from an era of high creativity and high extravagance, to the other way round. It’s dominated by the client not by good ideas, who are risk averse.
“A move to the middle ground is a good formula for coming third. So be different, be yourself. I’ve been fired five times and each time I’ve landed in a better place afterwards [Mr Mavity is now a millionaire several times over, in case you wondered]. Too much of the education of children revolves around telling them what not to do. Been fired? Keep at it. Embrace risk.”
Listen as much as possible
“I once pitched for a client who specialised in a very hi-tech financial services product of which I knew nothing. I walked into the room with a briefcase full of press ads, and the man who owned the company asked, ‘How do you see my business?’ to which I replied ‘I’d rather ask you. You’ve been doing this for 20 years whereas I am a complete ignoramus.’ He awarded my agency the business there and then, with the rationale being that while I may be stupid, at least I was honest.
“The six previous companies spent the whole time pretending to know what they were talking about. He then asked to see what was inside my briefcase, to which I also said no. I wanted this to be the only time in which I can boast about my ignorance. Don’t start your pitch with a map of the world showing where all of your company’s offices are, followed by a slide showing your client’s logos. Start by asking, ‘What is your problem?’”