5 Secrets to Creating a Winning "Mad Man" Pitch

An accomplished adman shares the secrets behind some of his most successful pitches.
Strategic Facilitation & Ideation, MatthewEMay.com
April 10, 2012

Two of television's most popular shows right now are "Mad Men" and "The Pitch." And the appeal, according to Madison Avenue adman-turned-author Kevin Allen in a recent interview, is that there is a "constant and universal fascination with seemingly powerful people coming up with ideas, slogans and jingles that sell an awful lot of soap powder to an awaiting public. There is a sort of inherent marvel as to how these folks conjure up the winning idea."

Just how to do that conjuring is the subject of Allen's new book, The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way to Win Business and Create a Following. Allen is one of the advertising industry's most accomplished professionals, with over two decades of experience on the front lines at ad giants McCann Worldgroup, Interpublic Group and Lowe Worldwide. He was an early part of Rudolph Giuliani's mayoral election team.

Allen's unique approach to pitching and securing hundreds of millions of dollars in new billings has little to do with traditional selling. Rather, it rests on making an authentic connection with an audience that links their personal hopes, ambitions, desires and beliefs with your professional assets.

"Having seen hundreds of 'Mad Men' and women at work," says Allen, "the brilliant ones are those who have the emotional intelligence to sense what is in the heart of their audience and figure ways to ignite it."

Allen draws from his own experience in pitching to the likes of Nokia, Marriott and Johnson & Johnson, among others, and lays out these five steps to what he calls the "Allen Key" system.

1. Identify the conceptual target

The conceptual target is the crystallization of a community of individuals who share common human truths. It allows you to hone in on and speak to exactly what your audience cares about. In pitching to the highly analytical, high-tech company Ericsson, Allen uncovered the company's strong need to be appreciated for making a difference in the lives of people around the world and created "Everyday Miracles," as the campaign came to be called. By strategically drawing out in discussion what your subject is really about, the conceptual focus of an effective pitch becomes clear.

2. Tune in to the "hidden agenda"

The search for the "hidden agenda" is essentially a search for desire. At Johnson & Johnson, Allen encountered resistance to younger people (such as himself) bringing new ideas and critiques to the table. The conceptual target was clear: respect for the traditional ways of the company. From this, the "hidden agenda" was teased out: a desire to proceed not from irreverent criticism, but respectful optimism. Allen developed what his team dubbed the "Possibility Agenda” ad campaign and won Johnson & Johnson's business.

3. Take inventory of your core and connect it with your target

Your core reflects the special abilities and assets you possess and how you add value for others. Uniformly proud of its superiority as an airline carrier while simultaneously hesitant to boast or appear aggressive in asserting this, Lufthansa was a difficult potential client to decipher. By knowing his own company's core, its unique and defining attributes, Allen was able to connect with Lufthansa’s real essence–genuine excellence–and lead them to address concerns for truthfulness and modesty with a campaign featuring a slogan that simply stated, "There's no better way to fly."

4. Communicate your credo

Your credo is your belief system that drives your actions. Clearly communicate that credo, emphasizing your values with those of your audience, to forge a bond. Marriott faced the challenge of defining itself in an overdeveloped hotel market with competitors wielding fancier architecture and up-market cache like Hyatt and Westin. The key to staying in the game was connecting to Marriott's real values and presenting those effectively to the world. Allen discerned, through an investigation of the everyday interactions between Marriott employees and customers, a culture based on the honor and nobility of service. This became the basis of a highly effective pitch, "The Spirit to Serve."

5. Discover your target's real ambition

Real ambition, as Allen defines it, is the human desire to grow and to add something to the world where nothing previously existed. South African Airways sought a new direction at a pivotal time in the country’s history. Feeling the eyes of the world upon them, they were deeply concerned to do the right thing in all aspects of their business–not just for themselves, but for their nation and its reputation. A pitch connecting the real ambition of every individual in the room–hope for a peaceful and prosperous South Africa–to the aims and pride of South African Airways moved everyone and won the day.

“We don’t really persuade anybody to do anything,” says Allen. "Businesses hire you and people follow you not because they've had their arm twisted, but because they see that you understand them. At the end of the day, behind every decision is an unspoken, visceral, emotional motivation. Tap that, and you win."

Photo credit: Courtesy author

Strategic Facilitation & Ideation, MatthewEMay.com