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Slinkies, Vertebrae & Guinness
(or How To Build A Winning Pitch)

Bafflement and fear.

These are often the emotions I see on the face of a creative or designer when they’re asked to put a pitch together. And it’s a strange thing … they approach the process of hunting down ideas with enthusiasm and gusto. But once they have to sell an idea to a client, they don’t know where to begin.

Every winning pitch has an iron core running through it. And this spine should be constructed of four simple elements …

  1. The Challenge
  2. The Insight
  3. The Idea
  4. The Execution

Let’s break these down.

The Challenge is the strategic or business problem you are being asked to solve. It could be repositioning a TV channel, getting young people to vote or encouraging consumers to try a new flavour of ice cream. Whatever. It’s the reason you’re sitting in a pitch opposite your client. Get this challenge down to a SINGLE SENTENCE. Never make the mistake of quoting the brief back to your client over several slides. You’ll lose them and you’ll kill your pitch before it’s even begun.

The Insight is the key to unlocking the brief and the foundation of your proposal. The insight is where your value lies for the client — it’s the thing you’ve noticed which none of the other agencies has. Maybe it’s an insight about the audience, the product, the competition or indeed something else. But the insight is the spark which will ignite your devastatingly impressive creative inferno.

The Idea is the idea. I know. Kind of obvious, but often people build the idea into the execution, and nowhere in the pitch does it say in a single sentence what it is that you’re asking the client to buy. Define your concept simply and elegantly. A good test is to feel confident that if, after the pitch, your client is in the elevator with someone who wasn’t in the room, they can explain your idea in a few words between floors.

The Execution is a vibrant and vivid description of how you will bring your concept to life. This is where you can go to town, have some fun and allow your creative impulses unfettered freedom. Images, adjectives and music are welcome here.

Now, I’m aware that this is quite cerebral stuff and may not yet be alleviating those feelings of bafflement and fear. So let’s show how it works with the UK’s all-time favourite commercial, the Guinness surfer ad directed by Jonathan Glazer (click on the image below to watch it).*

Challenge — Guinness takes longer to pour than other drinks. Anyone who’s ever ordered a pint of the black stuff will know that if correctly poured it will be allowed time to settle in the glass. Which is a problem is you’re trying to sell pints to thirsty young people at a busy bar.

Insight — make the problem the solution. Don’t obfuscate by talking about Irishness or creaminess. Let’s turn the long pour into a positive.

Idea — create a campaign which says that the best things take the most time.

Execution — a black and white mini movie about a dramatic activity which requires endless patience: surfing. The literary script revolves around a distinctive antihero and is enhanced with a pulsing contemporary score and state of the art CGI.


The logic is irrefutable and has a natural flow. Like a slinky spilling rhythmically down a staircase, we’re carried along with the same compelling energy, step by step, until we arrive at an irresistible conclusion.

Now I’m not suggesting that you should make the steps as overt in your pitch as I have made them above. I wouldn’t necessarily expect for instance that you have them as individual slides in your deck. A great pitch should be just as creative as the idea it is selling (something which I’ve written about previously here).

But once you know the Challenge, Insight, Idea & Execution, and can simply define each of them, then you have the backbone on which you can build your pitch. And you can get back to being creative and telling the story around them with enthusiasm and gusto. Rather than bafflement and fear.

*I wasn’t personally involved in this commercial so there is a degree of speculation here — but my point is to show what the foundation of the original pitch could credibly have been.

To listen to designers, artists, photographers, writers and makers talk about their own creative process, the highs and the lows, listen to my podcast The Wind Thieved Hat available via my website, iTunes, Soundcloud or Spotify.

Written by

I write, think & speak about the creative process. For more inspiration go to or listen to my podcast The Wind Thieved Hat on iTunes.

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