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September 1, 2010 9:43 AM   Subscribe

What form does an advertising campaign proposal take? What items do I need to cover and how should it be presented?

I've had what I think is a good idea for an advertising campaign for a particular product. However, I am in no way related to the company or its ad company, so this would be a complete cold-call. I've also never been involved in the advertising business.

I appreciate that the most likely result is rejection. However, how can I present my idea and reasons why I think it would work for them in a professional package, so as to give myself the best possible chance at this happening?

For example:
Should I do a short summary of some salient points, or really dig into the topic - how much detail should this proposal go into?
Should I include diagrams, charts, graphs to back up my points?

i.e. if you were PR person at BigCorp, what would prompt you to read and consider an unsolicited submission?

No point too minor or irrelevant!
posted by djgh to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When I worked for a large company, I would never read unsolicited submissions. I would get them all the time (as would our agencies) but we would not read them.
posted by birdherder at 9:55 AM on September 1, 2010

Difficult task in a cold call. Identify the need your idea addresses and the specific benefits it could deliver. In my experience, most creative comes well after this process.
posted by punkfloyd at 9:59 AM on September 1, 2010

if you were PR person at BigCorp, what would prompt you to read and consider an unsolicited submission

Honestly, probably nothing. If you want to make a career of advertising, however, you should execute your idea as much as possible (layouts, storyboards, etc.) and make it part of the book you use to try and get a job with an agency. Not a great time for that, though, as there are thousand of unemployed, experienced ad creatives out there right now.
posted by dersins at 10:01 AM on September 1, 2010

Best answer: Honestly - I highly doubt this will happen. I doubt you'll even get a response, but what is there to lose? First, you don't want to send it to PR executives, it's not their job to deal with creative campaigns for products. They do PR. Identify the marketing director / head of marketing and send it to him / her.

Again, most likely it will never get read. Small chance if it gets read: marketing person will forward it to the creative agency for evaluation (likely outcome: negative feedback, no matter how good it is, because interfering with their business means they make no money). Tiny, tiny chance: someone in charge at the company or the agency will read and like it. So, to increase this chance:

Keep it short. 3-4 slides in Keynote / PowerPoint or 1 page of text (3-4 paragraphs) describing the campaign idea as short and comprehensible as possible, if it doesn't fit into that it's probably not a very good campaign to begin with. Divide it into the following parts:

1. Challenge (current situation in the market or motivations of the target group / problem your campaign will solve)
2. Idea (the central creative idea behind the campaign)
3. Execution (central campaign mechanics and how you solve the problem stated in 1)
4. Bonus candy on top: story board / early layout drafts, ideas always work better with something to look at.

Good luck.
posted by starzero at 10:06 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: birdherder, could you give me an example of what a solicited, professional pitch contains then? I'm aware of the extremely long odds of it being read, but if by some miracle it is I want it to be good.

dersins, would you expect to see layouts and story boards in a one-off submission?

I'm looking more towards what the contents of a proposal should be - I know the chances of it not being immediately trashed are tiny, but hey, if I don't try it'll never happen anyway.

On preview - thanks starzero, that's just the sort of stuff I'm looking for. Would you say the 'bonus' material has to fit on that single page?
posted by djgh at 10:09 AM on September 1, 2010

Also consider the fact that if a better idea comes from the outside, the inside people are likely to squash it to protect themselves from seeming incompetent.
posted by punkfloyd at 10:14 AM on September 1, 2010

Would you say the 'bonus' material has to fit on that single page?

Maybe 1-2 additional slides / pages, but the whole idea has to work without looking at layouts / scribbles. And very important: keep it simple.
posted by starzero at 10:19 AM on September 1, 2010

Best answer: I work at an ad agency, and am in constant contact with marketing professionals at BigCorps.

What companies look for -- more than great ideas -- from an agency are deliverables: not just whether an idea is good, but whether it fits into the company's marketing plan, their current marketing mix, their overall brand image, and their plans for the future.

I don't want to be discouraging, but ideas -- even great, out-of-the-box, one-in-a-million ideas -- are cheap. Our agency has about a dozen great ideas every day. Unfortunately, a lot of the greatest ideas never make it out the door, NOT because they're not great ideas, but because they don't fit inside the overall brief, the overall brand plan, the current budget, or the brand's "story."

A great agency isn't an agency that has great ideas. A great agency is an agency that not only has great ideas, but is also staffed to execute those ideas, develop them from concept through to camera-ready art, equipped to roll with the punches as a concept gets bounced from an account manager to an account director to a regional marketing director to the VP of marketing and through regulatory processing (all of whom will have their own ideas about how it should be modified), and can do all of this according to a document called "the brief" -- a two- or three-page summary where the client outlines the goals, messages, budget and targes for an upcoming campaign.

Briefs are issued either as mandates (the agency is on the job!) or pitches (several companies, working from the same brief, develop campaigns; the company picks the campaign and company they like the best, according to who does the best job of creatively addressing the needs outlined in the brief).

So -- while your chances are crazy slim -- this is what I'd do in your shoes, knowing what I know about the industry:

Contact the company in question, track down the brand manager for the product or service in question, and ask for their most recent brief.

And ask which agencies routinely pitch for BigCorp's business.

If you can get a copy of their last brief (and they may not be willing to share -- these things sometimes outline multi-year strategies that they don't want the competition to know about), and the agencies that often pitch to the company in question, then you've got a (vanishingly slim) shot.

You'd want to tailor your idea according to the brief. If their last campaign brief identifies their target market as men 55+ who work white-collar jobs in the financial sector, explain why your idea is right for that market.

If their last campaign brief says they're trying to position their brand as "the freshest, best-tasting canned ham around," explain how your idea conveys those benefits.

If you're off the mark of the brief, fudge it as best you can.

You may not like the brief. You may not agree with the brief. But the brief has been created by the brand manager (etc.) as part of a long marketing strategy, and if you try to pitch something off-brief, you are telling the brand manager you know their job better than they do. And if you're about to tell the train conductor that you can do his job better, the train had better damn well be on fire or flying off the tracks.

So work from the brief. If you can't get the brief, track down every last scrap of advertising you can find for that company, and try to cobble together your own understanding of what that brief might be. Be succinct -- (on preview: see starzero's advice, above).

Then approach the agencies in question with your work; explain that you're interested in working in advertising and thought you'd show how you would respond creatively to a client brief. It so happens that this is work relevant to their interests. So here it is.

Brace for flaming rejection or steely indifference, but know that you've got a shot at really impressing somebody with your initiative and your understanding of the industry. If you get the right person on the right day -- and your work is really that good -- you may have a job offer on your hands. These days, in this economy, is about the worst time ever to look for work as a creative, but stranger things happen all the time.

Worst-case scenario, you're building a portfolio. Keep having great ideas, and keep seeing how you can make them conform to what big companies look for in their briefs. Agencies are in the business of responding to briefs, not coming up with crazy awesome ideas -- and most would rather hire a solid performer who can come up with good ideas within the confines of a client brief than a wild-haired geniuses that keep composing Beethoven's Ninth when the client asks for Can't Buy Me Love.

Good luck! Apologies for length.

tl,dr: show BigCorp you understand their brand position, target and objectives; meet those objectives with your work. Use agencies as a possible portal of entry if you make no headway with BigCorp.
posted by Shepherd at 10:32 AM on September 1, 2010 [7 favorites]

And wow, apologies for spelling up there. I'm (cough) at work so sort of composed that reply in stolen moments over the last half-hour.
posted by Shepherd at 10:35 AM on September 1, 2010

Incidentally, the former CEO of Radio Shack made it to the top of that company from the outside using just this strategy and in a relatively short period of time. He started by pitching a marketing idea to the CEO in the mid 1990s. But the jackass had to resign in 2005 for faking his resume.
posted by punkfloyd at 12:13 PM on September 1, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all, much appreciated!
posted by djgh at 2:27 AM on September 2, 2010

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