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How to sell in your great idea to the bosses

16 August 2016

What frustrates me more than anything when working on a new creative idea for a campaign or piece of comms is when opinions get in the way. 

I’m sure lots of my peers can relate to this familiar scenario. You work up an idea based on insight, research, experience and understanding only for the powers that be to tell you they don’t like it. They usually predicate their comments by saying “it’s just their opinion” but when you’re in a room with the big hitters, their voice has significant weight and influence. Eventually whatever they say becomes final, even though they’ve explicitly said it isn’t. Deeply frustrating.

So how do you get over this and sell in an idea? The short answer is you don’t. Instead of just selling in a concept, sell in a story. I’ve spent over 15 years selling in innovative, groundbreaking and often controversial initiatives to senior leadership in charities. Here’s what the experience taught me about getting management on board with your ideas.

Show them the journey 

However creative your idea is, it has to be based on insight. What is it about your audience that will make them love and respond to your idea? When you explain the reasoning behind something, it makes the idea a lot easier to understand. 

Set it in context 

Why are you doing it? Where has the initiative come from? How does it tie into the organisational, divisional and team objectives? Like everything you do, you should be able to track back all your work to the organisational objectives. Take your stakeholders by the hand and lead them from A to B to C.

Show the impact 

A sure fire way to get your stakeholders to pay attention is to highlight the impact you expect your initiative to have. Clearly explain your objectives (what you quantifiably want to achieve) and again, tie them into the organisational picture.

Show them where they fit in

What role does your stakeholder group play in developing and implementing your idea and the activity that will come from it? Will they be part of the research, signing it off, part of a workshop, the reporting board? Where does your work fit in with what they are doing and most importantly, how does it support their objectives? The more relevant you can make it to them, the less likely they’ll be to dismiss it. Even if they don’t completely buy into it, they will understand your aims and could give you constructive feedback rather than dismiss it. 

Explain your idea’s lineage

As part of the research phase, you’ll have found countless other campaigns you wish you’d done and nicked the best bits of. Don’t be shy, show how you came to the idea. Using examples from fully formed and successful campaigns by big brands gives your idea credibility. There are lots of case studies full of inspiration you can draw from on the CharityComms Knowledge Hub

Prepare for failure 

The truly great creative ideas will usually divide; the one you love is bound to be the one the budget holder can’t stand. Get round this by coming up with three ideas, one that’s totally safe but you can live with, one that is utterly ridiculous and will never get picked and your favourite, which just happens to perfectly straddle space between the two. 

But don’t get lost up your own backside

Be clear about what the idea is, how it works, what the insight is that got you there and why you think it will be a winner. Don’t try and look clever by using industry jargon – you’re not fooling anyone.

Be patient

Your idea is one of many senior management have to consider, from operational decisions to HR reviews. While it means the world to you, it’s one piece of the organisational puzzle for them. Make sure you ask their opinion. It never hurts to nod politely and say “that’s a great idea!” once in a while!

Enjoy it

This is your idea and you love it. Why else would you want to move forward with it? If you don’t get enthusiastic about your idea, how can you expect anyone else to?

If you’ve chosen a creative career, you’ll always be at the mercy of the budget holders. Approach the process with professionalism and passion and you’ll stand a good chance of getting what you love through to the next stage.

Alexander Scott

brand and content consultant, freelance

Alex Scott is a strategic communications and content specialist with 18 years hands on experience with charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, Breast Cancer Care, Samaritans, NSPCC and Anthony Nolan.