Axing the capabilities deck is just the first step

Earlier this week, many of us in the agency world probably stumbled upon this smart piece in AdAge, where Darryl Ohrt, president at Humongo, suggested (with great reasons why) that we all ditch the capabilities deck.

Earlier this week, many of us in the agency world probably stumbled upon this smart piece in AdAge, where Darryl Ohrt, president at Humongo, suggested (with great reasons why) that we all ditch the capabilities deck. It's an interesting thought, one that shouldn't be lost on any of us – in the same way that “read the room” is, frankly, a lost art for a lot of people who would pitch a room of jeans and T-shirt-wearing start-up guys in a sparse office the same way they would a multimillion dollar company full of suited executives were they both embarking on exactly the same product or launch.

We should all know our capabilities, with or without the slides on the screen behind us. Are they helpful and do they “work” in a room? Absolutely. But can you honestly say you wouldn't get the same (if not more) impact out of walking into a room of people you'd barely (if at all) had any contact with, handed them a checklist or “notes page” with various sections that you wanted to cover in your time with them, and just riffed from there?

I can honestly say that the pitch meetings where we used a product in a creative way absolutely made a difference, if only because the prospect realized that we could look at their business differently than they could. A truly creative team I worked on once actually brought talent in from a very popular cooking contest show, had him take the prospect's product and cook and serve it in an elegant, upscale way as our mid-meeting meal. Not only was the prospect thrilled to meet the chef, but they actually said, “Wait, is this our food?” Genuine surprise and appreciation for that simple move. We won that business before the prospect even left our offices – and I'll never forget it.

I'd like to propose we take this one step further, perhaps, being the digital aficionado that I am. Why aren't we – at least when appropriate – using the tools and products that we all consider so near and dear these days? Why aren't we working a client's product or service into a pitch meeting?

Pitching a company that makes DVRs that have Web accessibility? Why isn't whatever you want to show them able to be viewed through the device in the room? Is one of your ideas a mobile application? Rather than just bringing a splash screen, pay someone to create a working, viable mock-up of the app. Creative idea for a camera company? Spend the $200 you might have shelled out on binding 10 decks on their camera and take photos or record video of your team members, just to show them your corporate culture as a leave-behind, or use something like Animoto. Just do it – at least once – and see what happens.

Lately, I'm finding myself repeatedly suggesting to take someone's business, or PR efforts, at least a half-turn away from what they think it is, even if just for a moment. It doesn't mean we need to execute all those ideas, but show them that you can transform what they have into something new, better, different. Show them you're not just cookie-cutter slides on paper or a screen. Demonstrate that you are someone who can think about who they are or what they offer in a potentially mind-blowing way.

Tom Biro is a Seattle-based VP at Allison & Partners. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom@allisonpr.com.

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