Selling creativity

July 29, 2018

Excerpt from 'How to Wrestle an Octopus: an agency account manager's guide to pretty much everything'. Available now!


When you are working on a project or campaign, and your creative team gives you their concepts, it will be up to you to take those concepts to your client and present them in a manner that does you, your team and your agency justice. This process is well-known as ‘selling the work’ because - quite often - you will need to encourage your client to be brave, take a risk, and do things differently. It could take a hefty dose of salesmanship to get your team’s ideas across the line and ‘close the deal’.

Your goal is to get your client to approve the concepts so you can take them to market, invoice your client, earn revenue, and make a profit. Selling a creative idea is simply another form of ‘sales’.

Here are some tips for selling-in a creative idea to a client:


Take a Creative with you 

No-one knows your creative concepts as well as the Creatives themselves. If you can, it’s a good idea to take your Designer/Art Director/Creative Director to the client meeting with you. You can decide how much of the presentation each of you will do. Even if your Creative doesn’t say much, they are there to answer questions, and their presence may help lend some creative ‘gravitas’ to the meeting. 

Always refer to the brief 

Let’s assume that you have either received or taken a comprehensive brief from your client, and both parties have agreed on the details of the project. If you are confident that your creative ideas have nailed the brief, then this will increase your chances of receiving a positive response from your client. 

Think ‘business’ at all times

It’s important for you to be able to semi-detach yourself from the excitement of presenting a creative idea or execution and concentrate on the business aspect of your presentation. ‘Selling the work’ is all about having a business conversation and promoting an idea or solution that will help to solve your client’s problem and meet their business objectives.

Selling-in work should never be a hard sell, especially if you have already worked hard to develop your agency/client relationship. Your client will be more inclined to accept your recommendations if they have built up a measure of trust and confidence in you. They will then be receptive to your ideas and will be more inclined to believe you when you assure them that your idea is going to work.

Tap into the pain 

By the time you present your creative concepts, you’ll already know the pain points that you are trying to solve (either your client’s pain or their customer’s pain). If your ideas connect to these pain points, your presentation should resonate well. 

Sell the story 

If you can tell a story, and take your client on a journey with you, you’ll get a much faster buy-in than just presenting a piece of artwork and a quote. If you can make your client the star of the story, even better! Remember that what you are attempting to do is H2H selling (human-to-human) rather than B2B selling (agency-to-client), and humans like to listen to stories. 

Sell the idea rather than the execution 

Have you ever been prematurely told the punchline of a joke? How did you feel? Confused? Disappointed? It’s the same if you launch straight into explaining how a campaign could be rolled out to market before talking about the creative idea. Your client needs to understand the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ before you talk about the ‘how’. Once your client has bought into the idea, selling them in on the execution will be a whole lot easier. 

Be enthusiastic 

Enthusiasm is infectious. If you are excited about your team’s ideas, then others will feel more inclined to catch that excitement and run along with you. Approach all creative presentations with positive energy, a mindset that you will be successful, and the confidence that you will have your ideas accepted. 

Be patient and listen 

Not everyone will give your creative ideas a warm reception. You may need to repeat portions of your presentation or explain certain sections in more detail. You may have to do some convincing, but before you do, it’s essential to listen to what other people are saying. It may be that you haven’t fulfilled the brief as well as you had hoped, or maybe the brief has changed slightly. Before you go all gung-ho to push your ideas through, you may need to pause, take the temperature of the room, and then decide how best to proceed, which requires you to have patience and listen.  

Be persistent and negotiate

If you are convinced that your creative ideas are exactly what your client needs, then don’t just roll over and capitulate as soon as you think the idea has been rejected. There may come the point when you have to let your client have their way (they are the ones paying the invoice, after all). However, there are times when it is appropriate to push back (gently and respectfully) if it is in your client’s best interest.

If your desire to push back is fuelled by your ego, disappointment, or pressure from your creative team, then think twice before you say anything. Clients are savvy and can sense when you are pushing ideas for your benefit rather than their’s. Remember that there is a fine line between negotiation and desperation.

Give them time 

You’ve had a lot of time (before your meeting) to digest the ideas, buy into them, and see how they will benefit your client. When you give a creative presentation, your client will hear these ideas for the first time. It’s possible that you will get an immediate buy-in, although most clients will take a while to process the information. You’ll need to respect that, even if it takes hours or days to get a response. 

Back up your ideas 

If you are able to back up your ideas with statistics, research, or social proof it may help to convince a client that your ideas have merit. 

Be aware of the mock-ups you present

In the ‘old days’, creative concepts, storyboards, and layouts were presented to a client as rough, hand-drawn sketches (a.k.a. ‘scamps’). Imagery and layouts presented in this manner made it easy for an account manager to talk to a client about the ‘idea’ of a concept or campaign without the client getting hung up on the detail of the visual execution.

These days it can be just as quick and easy to prepare initial concepts that look almost like finished art, and therein lies a danger of a client taking your concepts literally. It’s up to you to ensure your client understands what they are looking at, and managing their expectations accordingly.

Pre-empt any risk 

You may have the most groundbreaking, amazing, creative idea, but if your client perceives there to be a high-risk factor involved, they may say “no”. It’s a good idea to brainstorm all possible reasons why a client may reject your ideas BEFORE you go into the meeting.

Risks can be real or perceived, so try putting yourself in your client’s shoes and consider all possibilities. That way you may be able to counter any concerns thrown at you during the presentation. Better yet, address any possible barriers DURING your presentation, to put your client’s mind at ease as you go along. 

Pre-empting questions and concerns will enable you to: 

  • Refine your proposal or presentation. 
  • Identify holes or issues. 
  • Alleviate potential client stress. 
  • Think on behalf of your client. 
  • Demonstrate how much you understand your client’s business and requirements. 
  • Gain client approval more quickly and easily. 

As your industry experience and client knowledge grow, you will be able to do a lot of pre-emptive thinking by yourself. For occasions such as concept presentations and pitches, the most effective way to pre-empt client questions and issues is to do a group brainstorm where people can play the ‘Devil’s advocate’ and try to ‘break the pitch’. Better to do this before the event than during!

In spite of your best creative efforts you may still end up rolling out run-of-the-mill, conservative work, because that is what your client ultimately likes, or what they feel safest authorising.

Some clients are braver than others. By building a close relationship with your client, you’ll grow to know how close to the creative edge you can lead them before they put the brakes on.

Ensure your ideas sell themselves 

The ideal situation is that you are given an opportunity to explain - in person - the thought process behind your ideas. If that is not possible (e.g. you may be located remotely from your client, or your client may be travelling), then your ideas have to be strong enough to sell themselves. For example, no-one will be there to explain to consumers the idea behind a logo, or a TV commercial, or a billboard. Your client needs to be able to look at the execution and ‘get it’ straight away. Otherwise, the idea has failed to hit the mark.  

Selling in a creative idea is similar to other forms of sales whereby you first assess the need (take a brief), then you present, then you close the deal. For this type of selling you’ll have a very high chance of closing the deal because (hopefully) your creative product will be on-brief, your ideas strong, your execution impressive, and your agency/client relationship solid.  

Creative ideas are what AgencyLand is all about. They are the basis for all agency revenue, and they are how you will help your clients to succeed. Assuming that you have confidence in your team to deliver the goods, then selling in an idea should be fun, and one of the most rewarding things you will do as an account manager. 



    Leave a comment

    Comments will be approved before showing up.

    Also in Latest Tips & Tricks

    Agency burnout – a preventable disease

    August 10, 2020

    Burnout is (unfortunately) a common occurrence in modern agencies. It’s highly preventable IF management cares to do something about it, so let’s look at a couple of reasons why burnout still exists today.

    View full article →

    Having courageous (post-COVID) client conversations

    July 24, 2020

    Agency revenues have taken a hefty whack thanks to COVID-19 and the subsequent lock-down, and it can feel more than a little ‘inappropriate’ to ask your clients for more business. What can you do?

    View full article →

    Account management today

    July 05, 2020

    Agency account managers are pretty amazing people, but they can only be as amazing as the training that they get from their seniors and their wider agency teams. And they can only be as amazing as senior leadership allows them to be. What do I mean by that?

    View full article →

    My gift to you!