Pitching: Let Me Teach You Mind Control

I have over ten years of marketing experience. I’ve worked on Fortune 500 brands. I’m acquainted with some of the biggest names in digital. I’ve successfully helped win corporate accounts, both international and US. I have an idea which will solve all your public relations problems, and increase your brand awareness across the web.

Do you believe me?

What’s the idea, you ask? I have no idea. I have no idea who you are, feeders on my digital bytes. What your problem is, what strategies you require, what drove you to seek my tips and poetic imagery…but some day I might. Some day we may be seated across from one another, as I was many a time over the years, and I will look you deep in the eyes, and I will try to sell you on something which you may or may not believe in, yet, but by the slick trick of my tongue, you will just eat up.

Pitching is an art. It must be done in a pinstripe suit, or a jacket paired with designer jeans and Chucks, smooth, calculated, timed like an actor, director and scriptwriter all in one. After all, that’s how Don Draper does it right?

The “Ad Man” character seems to embody everyone’s worst faults, biggest aspirations, and most socially unacceptable traits. His blatant contempt for stupid coworkers or clients, half-despicable, half-pitiable womanizing, commitmentphobia, shady past, probable alcoholism, and occasional bouts of borderline depressed soul searching, followed by anti-business behavior should make him an agency’s worst nightmare.

But then he does his Don Draper thing. In an instant we’re pulled in, like a warm wave, carrying us away from dry land to fantasy land. How does he do it? In the video above he uses emotions, his actual family pictures to pull you in. In other instances his lackey, an unattractive Brooklyn upstart, takes center stage as she is more able to relate on women’s products. To feel them.

Now for the Science.

I love science. I tell people I took a second major in biochem because business was “too easy”, but that’s just a hyperbole I use to make myself sound…conceited. Actually I love science with a dandelion rooted passion that stuck its tentacles in to me at a very early age. If I have any Don Draper in me, may I make you love it too.

Mirror Neurons – Watch. Now. I mean it.

If you didn’t watch it, you can stop reading and head to b&l&.

If you did watch it, congratulations, you have just joined the rest of TED who knows what a mirror neuron is! You understand how this applies to commercials and Don Draper, but how does it apply to the emotions in believing a pitch?

I was recently at an Edelman networking even and shocking enough, I was not there to get a job at Edelman. (Although if say called me up tomorrow and offered, well what’s a girl to do?) I was there to rub shoulders, check out the crowd, see who are always these DC digitalists in person. And they had great cupcakes.

There was one guy who ROCKED that room. One pretty good-looking, overly excited kid in jeans and a backpack. He bounced from cluster to cluster, shamelessly, like an energetic, optimistic metal ball in an arcade game, shooting off the slightly jaded, aloof groups of – I’m just going to say it – yuppies, rubbing their eyes as they awakened from a long day, and a bad economy. His business cards shot out as his audience laughed and half-earnestly admired him.

Someone put a hilarious blog saying being a hipster is actually a desire to be a Minnesotan. Besides the love for plaid, the article claimed hipsters love things which are “more real”. We want to believe in something. We want to be a part of something, to be overtaken by an emotion whether its self-gratification, fulfillment or simply “The Dream”. I have no doubt the yuppies this boy was entertaining were truly jealous they did not have that sense of purpose. But luckily, they could buy it.

Today, GroupOn IPOed for A Ridiculous Lot of Money

We’re all a little horrified how much these startups keep going for. I keep waiting for “Bubble” to start trending but maybe it does every day so Twitter has had to silence it. Why do people keep investing in these sketchy business plans we wonder? When Color, the phone picture app, IPOed, one of silly PR men I know sent me their “pitch deck”. I was a job candidate for him, and read it quite seriously thinking this was case study. The spoof deck was hilarious, mocking, hipsterish, and not entirely unsellable.

It’s not your powerpoint that sells the pitch. It may be your financial sheets, it may be the accounting you painstakingly did, the costs you actually researched and referenced, but it is not the color of your deck that sells the idea. It’s your faith in it.

I Only Cry on Stage

Once upon a time I was an intern after having spent a year as a marketing coordinator for an ad agency. (Tip: Going backwards is not a good idea!) I was very annoyed at not doing “real” work. My team was at their rope’s end on some project ideas, and two group members were trotting off to run ideas by yet another potential nay-sayer. I “tagged” along under the premise I was just going to take notes.

As we were sitting in the “pitch”, the two very bright, very pretty girls clammed up. They saw the doubt in their audience’s face, and started to feel it, that mirrored feeling. They questioned their own words. Then they turned to me, next up is my idea. Do I want to explain it?

It was a science idea. Là, témoignez-vous mon feu. I stepped my audience through the logic, and mapped out the idea with my hands, (I move my hands a lot when I talk, a genetic gift from my mother). Accepted. I gave another idea we’d only briefly chatted on. Potential. I was eating this up. I threw out my own idea I had only mentioned to the group once. Potential. I left the meeting elated. We walked around the bend…

And one of the girls, cool under all pressure, burst into tears. She was so emotionally wrecked by the setbacks of the ideas which hadn’t made it, it literally was breaking her. The irony was her own doubt in her ideas was what set her back, while at the same time her emotional attachment to having them validated was hurting her. She had lost the power in her pitch.

They say in medicine you should never become attached to your patients. You cannot let the emotional burden of potentially losing a patient cloud your judgment. You must have complete faith in your diagnosis, while remaining emotionally ambivalent if you are wrong. In pitching, you must draw a line, knowing without a shadow of a doubt your idea is the best, the one that will make the client believe…yet feeling, if they hate it, tant pis. (A pity for them.)

That’s the power of Don Draper, and that’s the power of mirror neurons. Mind control.

Do you believe me? There are a lot of things, and ah-hem a few someone’s, I would have if I actually had mind control, so please take this title and the reference as the linkbait it was intented to be. Bisous.


One comment on “Pitching: Let Me Teach You Mind Control

  1. Kari,

    Lots of impressive stuff here. First, what you’re describing with mirror neurons ties in nicely with this Alltop post (http://holykaw.alltop.com/why-we-quit-when-others-succeed?tu2=1) , which cites an experiment that measured the effects of watching the performance of others on one’s own performance. Apparently, watching others succeed reduces performance relative to watching failure or not watching at all. To quote the authors: “In effect, we may transfer others’ goal fulfillment to ourselves, even though we haven’t achieved anything.”

    This outcome appears to be consistent with the “mirror neuron” discussion you cited. It also seems to square with the real world. It takes little imagination to, for example, imagine someone saying to themselves (consciously or otherwise) on an autumn Monday: “My football team won yesterday, so I’m gonna take it easy and bask.” I suppose there’s a Ph.D. dissertation in organizational behavior or a related field just waiting to be written.

    At a broader level, your post also provides a theoretical rationale for an idea I consider one of the more annoying to come out of the New Age movement, that of the “Law of Attraction.” If we’re actually hard-coded to ape others, then positive feedback cycles (of either positive or negative feelings) in social circles become easier to understand.

    This argument might also help explain Irv Janis’s concept of Groupthink, and, perhaps, other social psych concepts that I used to remember. If, again, we’re hard-coded to mimic and sympathize with others, then can’t that help explain how groups of people talk themselves into belief systems that others, outside the group, may deem absurd? At the same time, however, isn’t a pitch nothing more than an effort to create Groupthink? Perhaps, much as they used to say on “Yes, Minister,” it’s one of those irregular verbs: “I’m transforming an industry. You’re investing in a seed round. They suffer from a decision-making pathology.”

    For that matter, what implications do these two lines of research have for education? Are students more likely to slack off if they’re witnessing successful classmates? And, if you want to minimize the effects of vicarious success on work ethic, how do you go about it? Do we set things up so that all students have a hard time? If so, what effect does this have on self-esteem? Or do we want our brainiacs to sit next to the academic equivalent of “bait dogs,” and transform our schools into something like the Roman ludi of old? Such an approach might work at the Economics Department of the University of Chicago, but might be a hard sell to the parents of a struggling 3rd grader.

    Throw in the pitch scene from “The Wheel” episode of Mad Men, add some French, and you have my attention. Good work, and thanks.

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