Why Great Ideas Get Rejected And Tips On Selling Your Work

Kruger at Hirshorn 8

I’ve just read a great post by David Burkus on the Behance blog, 99U. It’s entitled Why Great Ideas Get Rejected. Scientific evidence reveals that we all possess an inherent bias against creativity. David does a wonderful job of detailing the research studies done and their results.

Bottom line, Jennifer Mueller of Penn State, remarks, “For a work to be truly creative, it has to depart from the status quo at some point. That departure makes many people uncomfortable.”

“Regardless of how open-minded people are, they experience a subtle bias against creative ideas when faced with uncertain situations.”

To sell our creative ideas, we have to make sure that we present them, in a way that first allows our clients to feel comfortable.

It’s interesting to see the results of this research test: One group of people was first primed by being asked to write an essay supporting the idea that multiple solutions existed for every problem. Another group was primed by writing an essay arguing the opposite.

Both groups were given the same implicit and explicit associations tests and then asked to rate a creative idea for a new product, a running shoe that automatically adjusted its fabric thickness to cool the foot in hot conditions. As anticipated by the first study, the group that had been asked to argue that multiple solutions didn’t exist for every problem showed the same implicit bias against creativity and was more likely to rate the running shoe idea poorly. The group that had argued that there are multiple solutions to every problem was more likely to rate the new running shoe idea highly.

Their research results also showed that regardless of how open-minded people are, or claim to be, they experience a subtle bias against creative ideas when faced with uncertain situations. This isn’t merely a preference for the familiar or a desire to maintain the status quo.

Most of us sincerely claim that we want the positive changes creativity provides. What the bias affects is our ability to recognize the creative ideas that we claim we desire. Thus, when you’re pitching your creative idea, it may not be the idea itself that is being rejected. The more likely culprit could be the uncertainty your audience is feeling, which in turn is overriding their ability to recognize the idea as truly novel and useful.

Watermelon car concept

This leads me to review some of the techniques that I’ve used to help me sell creative work. First, it’s critically important to learn that there’s three parts to the selling process. They’re the pre-sell, the sell, and the post-sell. If each stage isn’t handled well, you’ll lose out and your creative idea will never be produced.

Before you go to meet with your client or before you send them work, make sure that you’ve pre-sold it. There are different ways to do this. You can discuss how excited you are as it’s coming together. Send a little information out – bits and pieces of it as it’s being formed.

Once, I was working on a small business campaign for US West. We thought that our target audience would respond well to it but were concerned that our client wouldn’t necessarily think it would work. By anticipating the client’s reaction, we got out ahead of it. We took our ideas out to 25 small business owners and made videos of their responses. They generally embraced the work. Then we sent our client a couple of videos that showed small business owners responses to our ideas without revealing the work itself. Our client only saw that this was work that small business owners really liked. It made the anticipation greater as our clients wondered what the work itself was. Now, this only took one account executive with a camera a couple of hours to get the filmed reactions. She was a hero to our creative team and felt an integral part of the creative effort. The client was already pre-sold on the idea. When we showed it, guess what? There was no problem selling it.

We all know that the selling stage itself is an important part of the process. Too often, a lot of time is put into the creation of the work and little time is spent on figuring out how to best sell it. The last thing you want to do is spend time traveling to the client meeting only not to sell your idea and end up back in the office spending a lot more time creating another exciting project. There goes that beautiful weekend and your plans to spend time with friends and family.

Make sure that you leave time to practice and figure out how to best sell the work. Practice your presentation in front of your team members with each critiquing one another – looking for ways to improve it. Don’t present behind a table or podium. Find a way to join you client; shake everyone’s hand when you first get together. I never ever use a microphone if I can avoid it, even when I’ve presented a new campaign to a big sales group at their annual convention. It’s much more human to use your voice. Speak loudly, people believe you if your willing to say it loudly. It shows confidence. If you say it loudly, it must be true. I’ve spoken to groups of 2,000 without a microphone. You really don’t need it in most cases.

Another one of my “rules” is not to shift my weight when presenting. Practice standing very steady. You want to exhibit a strong foundation, not one that’s weak and leans against a wall or hides behind a podium. Get out in front of it if there’s a podium, even if everyone else has used it before your turn comes.

I recently attended a daylong workshop with Seth Godin in New York. It focused on how to build tribes or followers. The first thing he asked was, “Please, hold up your hand as high as you can.” We all obliged. Then he asked, “Now, raise it a little higher.” Everyone reached a little higher.” We all laughed as we realized that we hadn’t really raised our hands as high as we could, initially. There was more in each of us. It made an excellent point and launched the day smartly. Seth Godin is a terrific speaker, very human and uses the whole stage area well. He confidently moves through his space and makes great eye contact with an entire roomful of people.

Seth Godin

Seth Godin

One technique I’ve used successfully over and over again to sell creative ideas involves taking careful notes when being briefed by a client. When I later return and present the creative work, I mention these client’s comments and link them to how they led us to one idea – that led to another thought – that led to the work I’m presenting. The client is nodding yes, yes, yes before the work is shown. They see their role in its creation and are predisposed to embrace it.

Once when I tried to be taken off an account, I was told that I had to continue working on if for a while longer. I liked the client and was able to produce strong work; I just wasn’t totally in love with the product. This client said that I listen so well that they didn’t want to lose me. So this particular technique leads to more than just the sale of creative ideas.

The client bought it but you haven’t really sold the work until it’s produced. This means that you have to keep on selling it each and every day until it finally becomes a reality.

Many clients may initially love something but then over think it. I worked with one client that was a theme park, Kings Dominion, located between Washington DC and Richmond, Virginia. This client bought everything the first time he saw it and then proceeded to break it down and ruin it bit by bit before it was finally produced.

In reality, he wanted to see the dog eating the dog food, meaning don’t do anything too different. What he really wanted was to see shots of people riding their roller coasters and smiling. If we’d given him this TV idea every time, he would have been happy. We wanted to show people having fun on rides in more creative ways to separate his park from a close competitor, Bush Gardens in Williamsburg. They generally showed people smiling while riding roller coasters.

Instead of showing our client multiple frames of a storyboard when presenting, I decided we’d be more successful if we presented with just two frames. One would visually show people riding a rollercoaster and smiling, the second one would show his logo. Now, a lot of other things might go on in the TV spot in addition to showing people riding a rollercoaster and smiling but we’d just talk our way or act our way through that little piece of theater. Visually, he’d see these two oversized TV frames showing what he cared about most while we presented. This technique worked well.

Introducing a ride called the Berserker, we showed hip kids having fun on the ride and when interviewed after riding it, they talked about the fact that they weren’t scared at all even though they’d been upside down for most of the length of the ride. When the camera pulled back, you saw that their hair was really standing on end. Our client bought it and had those two frames to look at every day as the casting, wardrobe and production came together. The TV spot worked well and brought in a lot of people who smiled as they rode that new ride.

amusement park King Kong

I’m wondering what you’ve done to make your client feel comfortable when presenting creative ideas and taking them through to production? Share them with us and let’s see what we can do to improve the top-tier of creative work for both our clients and ourselves.