David Fish: What I Learnt When A 90 Minute Media Pitch Was Cut Drastically Short

David Fish: What I Learnt When A 90 Minute Media Pitch Was Cut Drastically Short

David Fish (lead image) has over twenty five years experience leading strategy across a range of advertising and marketing roles, having pitched solutions with a combined value of several hundred million dollars to global clients. In this exclusive extract from his new book, What It Takes To Create Winning Presentations, he reflects on the need to be flexible when things don’t go to plan….

The faces in the room wore different reactions. On the Channel Nine side, delight at the idea of a shorter meeting and time back. The meeting will soon be over, they thought. On our side,

shock and despair were evident in ashen faces, all of this work and just 15 minutes to land our idea. We were presenting to a group of senior executives from Channel Nine, from the head of news programming to their head of audience research and the CEO of the broadcaster, at the time David Gyngell.

The meeting had come about from a long-standing relationship, and it had created a rare opportunity to flex our strategic muscle and show what we could do in a very significant partnership between two broadcasting powerhouses; there was a lot at stake for us all.

The 6 pm nightly news is a key timeslot for television ratings. This is not only a peak viewing time and so of great value to advertisers, but also an important timeslot because it can set up the success of the program that follows and the whole night’s ratings as those audiences follow from one program to the next. Basically, this means the 6 pm nightly news is one of the most important in the programming schedule and one to win in the ratings war as these ratings convert to ad dollars. Nine, which had a reputation for leading in this timeslot with a proud heritage of producing the best news, were locked in a fierce battle with Channel Seven, which had now been leading in Sydney for some time.

We believed we had some strategies that could help Nine win, we just needed an audience. So when we heard that the meeting had been confirmed, I assembled a team and we hunkered down. Our strategies needed substance and ideas to bring them to life. Within a few weeks, we had mountains of content, way more than we needed and certainly more than would fit into a 60-minute presentation with 30 minutes for questions from what we knew would be a large audience of interested parties. Eventually, a very polished and meticulously rehearsed presentation emerged; it was completed with at least an hour to spare before the meeting, as nearly always seems to be the case!

The meeting was first thing in the morning, and so after another quick breakfast run-through confirming roles, handover points and possible questions, we were finally ready for the big performance. The boardroom at Nine was full, and we were all seated when David arrived; his breakfast meeting had run over and, after the pleasantries, he announced he only had 15 minutes before his next meeting. Could we please summarise the main points for him, and then we could continue with his team if there was interest? There may have been an audible gasp on our side, or I may have imagined that for dramatic effect, but in any event it was a very dramatic change of events.

All eyes turned to me. I was the strategic lead. I owned the deck and knew the content better than anyone. Come on, Fishy, land the story, was written across the faces of our team, which also included some very senior figures from our business. I took a moment to compose myself, as the team bought me some time. I flicked out of the slide show view to slide sorter and did a very quick shuffle. One set-up slide, drop the other ten straight to the Hero Slide and the story navigation on a page, and a couple of supporting slides that

brought the ideas to life, and then to the summary of why this would work for both parties and how we saw this moving forward. It was a new 10-minute deck built in less than one minute, and it was delivered with five minutes to spare for questions. As David stood up to leave precisely at the 15-minute mark, he said, ‘This is good. I like it – let’s get a team together and work through what this can look like.’ That was all we needed; we had the green light to move forward, and that was most certainly a win.

Three months of detailed research and planning followed, and today more than 10 years on I can still see elements of that work in the nightly news and the partnerships that continue.

Had we tried to speed our way through the slides, had we tried to execute a live cut down, had we not taken the time to simplify the strategy and define our headline narrative and the core message we could present on a single slide and get clear on the benefits within our

ideas, we would not have been able to present this story at the very highest level in a coherent way with such little time to adapt. It was the simplification of our strategy that saved the day; without this, we would have confused the hell out of everyone and been left licking our wounds.

This might be an extreme version, but this experience is not a unique one. It happens a lot; you think you have an hour to present, and you end up in a walking meeting for 20 minutes because there are no meeting rooms. And, certainly, when presenting to senior executives and boards, you should expect that the time you have will be cut short. They are time-poor, running from meeting to meeting, and want to get to the point and expect that you know what the point is. Learning to become a Strategic Storyteller will prepare you for this and many other situations when you need to land a winning presentation without the full presentation.

Edited extract from What it Takes to Create Winning Presentations by David Fish. ‘Fishy’ is a strategic communication specialist and founder of No Two Fish. Visit www.davidfish.com.au

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