Some of you may have seen me on TV recently, but for the majority that probably didn’t, I was invited to be an expert on the judging panel of BBC 1’s The Apprentice. It was a great experience, where I got to meet some other industry experts and play a small part in helping to influence the decision on the winning Apprentice.
I am pleased to say that the winner of the overall competition, Ricky Martin, was one of my overall winners on the day too.
Ricky and his partner were pitted against a rival team on the show and had to develop a new product (male grooming or confectionary) from scratch and create a trial retail environment for this. Of all of the attributes that Ricky showed to his potential employer, Lord Sugar, throughout the show, the one that stood out to me on this day, was his ability to pitch.
All VM professionals from management level up periodically have to pitch; be it for a new store concept, ideas for a major seasonal event, or just for a new in-store or window scheme. But what makes a good pitch? It’s not just about your ability to present, but about the quality of your planning, preparation and business head too.
I have spent more time than I care to mention pitching ideas to clients of Visual Thinking, and to internal teams earlier in my career at retailers such as Next and Paperchase. Here are some tips that I would offer to help deliver the most successful presentations to achieve the results you want.
The idea itself
It’s essential to have a clear and focused idea. This should be distinctive, differentiated from competitors, and importantly, easy for others to understand. If you’re following market trends, for me, it’s important to make the idea ‘brand relevant’ and not simply to present a derivative ‘me too’ version, despite this being the easier option.
In The Apprentice, to some extent it was a surprise that Ricky’s team won the task set by Lord Sugar. Their retail concept and the delivery of this was not the most innovative or impactful, with their success being down to the preparation, communication and consideration of other key factors – such as marketing, implementation and the financials within their pitch.
From my own experience, I understand that coming up with ideas is often the easy part for marketers and VM people, who can draw on their imagination and creative talents. However, where people can be less confident, is in the key areas such as planning, preparation, project management, communication and the financial aspects. These are often the areas where other people want to be reassured and thoroughly convinced about the viability of your plans.
This concerns all the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ and ‘what’s’ that will make your VM plans a reality. Consider all the aspects that will be involved in delivering your ideas successfully, including the operational and financial elements too. Will external contractors or additional equipment be required, will it require out-of-hours working or store security? Work through the logistics, retail communication and implementation considerations too. Here, if you clearly demonstrate that you have thought your plans through carefully, people will be better informed and more prepared to support them.
Cost estimates must be detailed and robust, with everything in your plans budgeted for. To gain approval, people will expect you to show quotations and ideally how a positive return on any investment can be achieved by implementing the plans. Evidence can be very beneficial, if possible, run tests and trials to collate any financial data that can be used to support your proposals. If using suppliers and external contractors, obtain price quotes through a tender process to show you are in control of the budget. It’s also a good idea to allocate contingency funds for unforeseen costs or budget over runs.
The most effective presentations are those that appeal to and connect with their audience. Establish who is attending the pitch and develop the presentation around what people are likely to want to hear. When pitching a conceptual ‘visual’ idea think how best to demonstrate this to the audience. Prepare visuals, models, samples and prototypes to show as realistically as possible, what the end results will be like.
Presentations should be clearly structured. Use a simple three-part format – a start, middle and end. The start should be all about the idea itself, i.e. the rationale behind what you want to do and what’s involved, it’s your opportunity to bring the idea to life, so go for it! The middle must clearly set out the facts, figures, technical, operational and financial details about delivering the plan. A concise and punchy ending will summarise key points and next steps.
To deliver the pitch successfully, it’s vital to be personally well prepared! The best presenters win people over with a knowledgeable, relaxed and confident communication style. Rehearse the presentation to refine the running order, content and timings. Check and learn the facts, anticipate any questions which may be asked and consider your answers in advance. Remain calm and focused on the day.
Tidy grooming and clothing will project an air of professional confidence. It’s a must to demonstrate belief in your big idea, but do not become overly emotional and keep a professional approach. Be enthusiastic and positive about what you’re proposing at all times, if you express any concerns expect others to follow.
These tips will help you to deliver your ideas with clarity, conviction and credibility and if people like your plans, you’ll know soon enough as their body language and comments will confirm.