This British Library exhibition is well worth a visit for anyone interested in communication. It traces the history of propaganda, ‘thousands of years old’, but focuses mainly on the period it came of age, the 20th century. It defines propaganda this way:
“it is the deliberate attempt to influence the opinion of an audience, through the transmission of ideas and values, for a specific persuasive purpose that has been consciously thought out and designed to serve the self-interest of the propagandist, either directly or indirectly”.
This is as good a way as any as defining a pitch and while the exhibition concentrates on the popular view of propaganda, political, it has plenty of creative ideas and concepts that are relevant to anyone pitching today.
For example, how about some thought-leadership style corporate advertising which can serve to raise the prospects’ expectations before they cross your door. This is how Hitler tried to soften Britain up before attacking, a reasoned long copy ad dropped in leaflet form. Very similar in look, if not in content, to the brilliant ad run by the Saatchi brothers to launch their brand new agency to an unsuspecting marketing community. The headline was “Why it’s time for a new kind of advertising agency”. It worked, capturing interest and attention. Clients seemed to queue up to recieve a pitch and rival agencies were left standing.
Pitches are meant to be memorable, otherwise how will a prospect, viewing upto say six of them, separate yours from the rest, particularly when, as in many cases, there is little to choose between the technical solutions put forward, or indeed between firms.
In propaganda the use of a single powerful visual with a theme or title, not a clever advertising headline, is commonplace and expected. In many pitches, perfectly reasonable but not exceptional, there will be a comprehensive document well translated into a presentation, with a clear proposition and with three supporting arguments (rule of three) and some nicely designed charts, but with one vital missing ingredient, memorability. There are of course many ways of achieving this- a great idea, clever theatre, outstanding people performances – but all too often overlooked is the deliberate use of a single powerful poster style image that is repeated, and displayed prominently, in a way that guarantees your pitch will be remembered. It will signal your determination, WE WANT YOU AS A CLIENT.
Throughout the exhibition there are many examples of ‘power and persuasion’ in action with communication that makes its point with an emotional sell. Great propaganda, like the great pitch, makes an emotional connection.
Arguably, Goebbels understood this better than anyone else : “…….if you examine propaganda’s most secret causes, you will come to different conclusions: then there will be no more doubting that the propagandist must be the man with the greatest knowledge of souls. I cannot convince a single person of the necessity of something unless I get to know the soul of that person, unless I understand how to pluck the string in the harp of his soul that must be made to sound”.