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Sorry. Oops.

These words from Governor Rick Perry probably killed off his chance of being nominated as the Republican candidate. In the live tv debate last week he was in attacking form, “I will tell you it’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce. Education…………..and what’s the third one”?  60 painful, for him, seconds later, “Sorry. Oops”.


Whether it was one of those memory blanks that can happen to anyone or whether, which seems unlikely he did not know the answer, most viewers will read the worst into his gaffe and assume he does not know what he is talking about. Initally he handled his lapse with a smile, maintaining strong eye contact.


 Had he finished that way much would have been forgiven. Instead he looked away as if for help, compounding the D’OH!  impression. In any live presentation it is easy to forget that the words alone are a minor part of the communication impact. The way you say it, the body language, the tone and expression play the major part.


The supreme communicator President Ronald Reagan handled gaffes effortlessly with his engaging folksy style and with clever words.  Challenged in debate by Walter Mondale, targetting his age over one of his many lapses of memory, he turned the tables  with humour saying “I am not going to debate for political purpose my opponent’s youth and inexperience”.  Even Mondale laughed.


As the political parties start their final jockeying for favour, leading up to the election, team selection (as it is for Capello) becomes critical. It will not be enough to have well qualified individuals in the line-ups. What will matter is their chemistry.

Do we like them? Do they like each other? Are they an attractive interesting team? Basic gut instinct can overule our political sensibility, particularly when real differences are few.  As they usually are in the business pitch.


Many many pitches, across all sorts of business areas, end up with a team of three to six people, presenting to a similiar number, for around 45 minutes.  However heavy the documented proposal, however intense the build-up, these few minutes are often what determine the result.

Fast, instinctive reaction to the team, and how they come across in those precious minutes, lead decisions. Casting is critical to positive chemistry.  They have asked to ‘meet the team’, but what do you do if you have someone who, on paper, is by far the best qualified but who comes across poorly in meetings?

 The tough decision must be faced. Who will win the business on the day?


Any response will be emotional. Chemistry will matter and, generally is more positive where the team is made -up of interesting, different and contrasting personalities.

Ten years ago Blair, Prescott and Brown were such a team. Today neither Cameron’s Notting Hill Gate set nor the brothers Milliband or the Balls couple, for Labour, offer such contrast.


In reality, most companies will not have a cast of hundreds to choose from. What they can, and, if they want to win, must do is work on the chemistry of the team they have got.  Use rehearsals to improve performances and confidence. Have an objective rehearsor as you try out different approaches to create interest, surprise, engagement and interaction.

The result can be spontaneous combustion on the day!

The celebrity pitchman.

There was in interesting piece in The Observer’s supplement from The New York Times this weekend. Entitled ‘Persuasion Tactics’ it looked at the seemingly unstoppable rise in the use of the “Celebrity Pitchman” in advertising.  Apparently stars featured in 14% of ads in the USA,( it’s probably much the same in the UK), 24% of the ads in India and an astonishing 45% in Taiwan.

Of course, celebrity endorsement in advertising is not new.  Sometimes it works brilliantly adding short term impact and long term emotional engagement.  My favourite, still, Cinzano lifted as a brand by Joan Coliins and Leonard Rossiter.  Sometimes it patently does little and the celebrity is noticed but not the brand.

The changes in celebrity pitching, as the article suggests, are driven by two factors.  First is the sheer omnipresence of the stars, not just in their own arenas- sport, movies, music- but on the web and in  celebrity magazines feeding a voracious public appetite.  The second factor is that many of the stars are not only bigger brands than those they endorse, they are more skilful brand managers. They, the Jay-Zs, the J-Lo’s,the Beckhams, are in the driving seat.

They understand that aside from relevance (hopefully) they  bring their charisma, their energy, their success, and the force of their personality to reinforce the brand’s pitch.

When professional companies are pitching their services  they understand, or should do,  that letting their personalities shine though is what wins.  Not obscuring them behind obscure  charts.

Pitching in protest. That Black Power salute.


Last Wednesday, unecessarily late, on BBC4 there was a brilliant documentary, Black Power Salute. It went behind the scenes to explore the action and motivation that led to the moment when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black gloved fists at the Mexico Olympics in 1968. One of the 20th century’s most powerful, enduring images.

Black Power Salute

As the programme spells out this was not a spontaneous gesture. It was, even though not described as such, a brilliantly conceived and stunningly executed pitch, an act of persuasion. It expressed the resentment of black people at that time and fuelled the momentum of civil rights.

I was in the stadium watching, having competed without success in my event a few days earlier. The effect on the ‘ live’ audience was surprisngly muted. A gloved hand has little visual impact at a distance of 70 or so meters. Smith and Carlos knew this. They were targetting the worldwide TV audience whose screens framed, in close up, the men and their raised fists. The iconic image.

Muhammad Ali, the ‘greatest’ pitcher of all time, called it the ‘single most courageous act of the 20th century’. It could be, but for me what is truly astonishing is the way they handled the physical and emotional demands of reaching the final and then having to win. Not for the medals but for the opportunity to protest.

For us lesser mortals, a reminder that a picture is worth a thousand words.

David “no-notes” Cameron at Blackpool


Last week in Glasgow, in the lead up to the by-election, David Cameron delivered what has been described as a taboo-breaking “moral leadership” speech . As reported it was a speech of real substance, with strong uneqivocal messages, for example “….we prefer moral neutrality, a refusal to make judgements about what is good and bad behaviour, right and wrong behaviour”.

It contained powerful messages which will register and which will drive the Tory agenda. However it is not this speech but his speech at the Tory Party conference in Blackpool in autumn 2005 that merits being included in the 100 Best Pitch Stories.

It was a five-way pitch. The two favourites going in  were the big beast Ken Clarke, an experienced and  fluent platorm speaker, and, in the lead, the bruiser David Davis, (now somewhat bruised by his by-election activity?) The other three were Liam Fox, Malcolm Rifkind and David Cameron. 

All five spoke for roughly the same amount time, to the same audience of party faithful and no one can remember what any of them said!

Quite simply the political landscape changed on that day. Not because of what Cameron said but  because of the way he said it.