Birth Of A Salesman

My name is Tim. And I’m a salesman. The first step in becoming an adman, a good adman, is admitting you are powerless over it. Face it; we’re like moths to a flame. We are starved for approval. And despite the fact that it’s not our money, it’s the clients’, we must prevail. And most times we should, if we’re any good.

The only feasible antidote to all these afflictions is salesmanship. Seriously, exquisitely effective salesmanship. Convincing the people who control the purse strings, qualified or not, that your big fat idea can do something good for them. I’ve always called it “begging with dignity,” and the first step to becoming an effective salesman is to admit you are one.

But first, you have to recognize you are powerless over the space you’re in. You’re in the ad bidness. You are a salesman. Maybe you suck at it. But you’re a salesman. OK, salesperson. You sell stuff, or you’re supposed to. You sell ads. And good ads sell stuff.

An adman named David Ogilvy once famously said, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” Bill Bernbach wrote, “Our job is to sell our client’s merchandise …” And these guys got their names on the door. Someone who didn’t—my first creative partner back at D’Arcy St. Louis, Steve Kopcha—always said, “Good ads sell stuff.” And since we drank about 3,000 beers together, I believe him, too. So listen up.

These guys were saying these things when ads were just ads. Now we’re producing “branded entertainment,” podcasts, buzz, events, social networking and Super Bowl commercials, and none of this stuff is worth a shit either unless it’s selling something.

All of this sage conventional wisdom used to be reserved just for us account dogs. Somebody thinks up the idea, somebodies bring it to life and then, finally, the bag carrier sells it.

Wrong then. Wrong now.

Ogilvy again: “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

And hell, the business is more modern today than in the ’70s, right?

Maybe. Didn’t the guy with the idea have to sell it to a writer, or art director?(Or at least a boyfriend? Or somebody’s wife?).

And didn’t they have to sell it to his creative director(s)? And didn’t all of them have to convince everybody else it was on strategy? And what about convincing the account dog that this was the one? Maybe not this last part. But it should have been. And it should be that way now, for sure. Every step of the way is selling. Say it with me, we are all sales dudes.

Make us believe in it. Or most of us anyway. Convince me this is the real thing. First, show me how it’s on strategy, for sure. Then, win me over. Jack me up. Light my fire.

And if you don’t feel that way about it, how can I? Bring me in on it early. Make me part of it. Test me (most of us will pass, or disappear). And then, come with us. There’s no stopping us.

But first, big boy/girl/gender neutral creative person, have something to sell: an idea, a solution, an opportunity. Something measurable. Seriously. Not the mobisode extension. Not the FX. Not the unedited online version. Not the music. First the idea. Tell me what it is in a single sentence. Then show me. Then bring on the rest of it. And if we can’t ultimately measure what you want me to buy into, I ain’t buying into it. And neither will the client.

Obviously, it must move the damned needle. Sales? Slam dunk. But some needle: Likeability. Awareness. Trial. Clicks. Consideration. Something. If you don’t know what you expect from the work, it ain’t working. If you don’t know, how can they?

Second: find something about the idea to believe in. Believe in your belief of its possibilities. Believe it can contribute something positive to somebody’s business, or bottom line, or golf course bragging rights (this is a game clients still play), or bar talk (this is a game everybody plays). Something. And then, convince me to believe in it, too. Sure, you believe in it. Or you should: it’s your idea. And if it’s worth a shit, then I should, too.

And guess what? The first thing anybody is buying—before the idea, before the reveal, before the campaign, way before the director, is … you. Not the “personal cleverness that makes us shine instead of the product” that Bernbach objected to. But your ability to define the idea, as Bernbach put it, “… to simplify, to tear away the unrelated, to pluck out the weeds that are smothering the product message.”

Notes to adwo/men— try this in your next sales pitch:

No notes.

No neckties.

70 percent visuals, 30 percent words on your Power Point.

Better yet, no Power Point.

Talk to your audience, not at the screen.

Walk around the room.

Imagine the possibilities.

Dare your audience to wonder, “What if?”

Pull them into your dream.

Commit to something.

Ask for the order.

But first: reality check:

How’s it look?

How’s it feel?

Semi real?



Can do?

Put the proverbial life camera on it (like that Albert Brooks movie).

Review the footage ahead of time.

Does it walk?

Check it out.

True for advertising.

True for real life.

Here’s all I’m saying: My name is Tim.

I’m a salesman. And so are you.