When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, I imagined the hardest part would be coming up with good ideas. Back then, creating a new idea meant summoning elegant words, phrases, and story out of nothing more than my daydreams and boredom. Where did the really great creative writers get their ideas? It all seems like an impossible mystery—which didn’t stop me from wanting to try.
Times are different now. For one, I’m a marketing writer by profession, so I mostly write for hire. Two, finding ideas worth writing about is easy. Between the firehose of shared information on social media to the remarkable surplus of quality marketing websites to all the conversations I have with colleagues and clients, I never lack for ideas. For three, I no longer imagine great ideas simply appear out of nowhere—they show up (most reliably) from making connections between people’s wants, fears, and every sticking point in between.
Then there’s the fourth thing that I know now—the hardest thing about being a successful writer for hire is not coming up with a good idea. It’s not even executing on that good idea to make a quality product (though that does take time, effort, and practice). No, if I had to name the hardest thing about writing for hire, it’s getting your client to like your idea and pay you to produce it.
The Trouble with Good Ideas: Risk.
You know how the pitch process goes. You enter the room with the perfect concept for a client’s new project or campaign—it’s inventive, compelling, and will drive ltos of sales. All you need to do is convince the client this idea is worth their investment—which can be really, really hard.
Why? If you like the idea enough to champion it, the idea is likely creative, different, and promises to actually be fun to execute. The trouble is, the qualities of “new” “creative” and “different” are all dangerous trigger words to most clients—these qualities all suggest this idea hasn’t been proven to work yet, nor is the idea immediately recognizable (because you probably designed it to not be like what the client or their competitors did in the past).
Here’s the dilemma: you’re proposing something risky, and your client has been trained for years to avoid risk unless it’s proven to be minimal. If you want to sell a client on your idea, you need to prove your potentially risky idea is not that risky after all.
So, how do you do that? Here are my favorite strategies for how to present your good idea and win your client’s approval so you can actually execute on it.
How to Pitch Your Ideas So Clients Will Actually Listen
1. Connect your idea to your client’s brand.
You’d be amazed how often creative workers come up with imaginative and distinctive ideas, then present them with little regard for how well they actually fit the client’s style and voice. The simple truth is that not all great ideas are great fits for any client. A company that prides itself on its no-nonsense, cover-all-the-bases approach to cybersecurity won’t be happy with a snarky campaign using a lot of funny one-liners; nor would a brand that focuses on the human experts behind its solutions be well-served by a slick 3D animation that never shows a person’s face.
As any good writer knows, it’s vital you consider your audience when pitching an idea. Demonstrate how their company’s tone, history, and style would be honored and celebrated with your idea. This helps your bold new plan seem less like a departure and more like a natural extension of what your client is already saying and doing (bonus points if you can point to a past campaign of your client’s that links to your idea). In short, you make your idea look less risky.
2. Support your idea by linking it to good ideas that have come before.
This point can seem like compromising your creative vision. After all, what’s less imaginative than pushing an idea based on something another company is already doing? My advice is not to copy someone else’s approach but rather support your idea by showing how it might perform. To mitigate risk in the mind of your client, you need to show how your idea not only will work, but that it has already worked in other situations.
Before you present your idea, look for examples you want to use from similar brands or industries. While you’re unlikely to find a campaign or ad exactly like your brilliant idea (If you do, your idea might not be as original as you thought.), it’s not too hard to show examples that match the tone or style of your big idea. If your client likes your examples, they’re that much closer to agreeing to your creative pitch of a related idea.
3. Show how you will verify this idea is successful.
If the first two points are about mitigating risk, this tactic is about proving your idea works. In the age of big data, it’s essential you can describe how you will analyze and measure the success of your approach. Provide details about the assets you propose to make, the way you will monitor user engagement, and how you will adjust or alter your approach based on how your client’s customers respond.
Volumes of blogs and guides have chimed in about how to digitally measure success. However, as you decide between click-through-rates or downloads or new sessions to verify success, keep this in mind: the metrics that most matter to your client are how many leads and sales your campaign generates. You might not be able to directly prove your big idea drove sales without an actual consumer survey about your campaign, but you need to be confident your idea will improve the client’s bottom line.
4. Emphasize how your idea will stand out—positively.
Consider this a counterpoint to linking your big idea to past successes. If your idea begins to feel too similar to other campaigns, you will need to describe details that set your idea apart. The best way to do this is by doubling down on how you link the client’s brand to your approach. Your client will want to feel like you’ve crafted a custom campaign that’s tailored to their company, so be specific about how your idea will represent their brand well.
5. Demonstrate enthusiasm and commitment to your idea.
As the creator of your big idea, it is up to you to be passionate about your vision and make that passion infectious. Tell the story of how you came up with the idea. Share the reactions from your teammates. Paint a picture of what this successful campaign will look like. This is the kind of enthusiasm that’s essential to creating truly memorable and effective campaigns—and the same kind of enthusiasm you should present in your pitch and elicit in your client.
More importantly, you need to communicate to your client that you are invested in this idea’s success. No one wants to partner with “an ideas guy” who proposes grandiose schemes then becomes suspiciously absent when tough challenges arise or the idea needs rework. After all your research, data, and imagination, you must show your client they can count on you to own your big idea and put in the work to help it succeed.
It’s not risky. It’s just new.
Let this be your underlying mantra as you present your ideas. While these tactics aren’t guaranteed to win your client over, each one represents a different tool to show your client that your potentially risky idea isn’t that risky after all.
Have you ever used these techniques to win client approval? Any others you’d like to add? Let me know in the comments below.