Board Games: Strategies for Creating Board Presentations That Will Leave Your Audience Anything But
Sherin, Jack, Hanc, John, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management
Why, in this age of computerized graphics, desktop presentation software and digital video, would you want to use boards -- a simple sales communication medium that's been around since Henry Luce and Briton Hadden were first pitching the idea of a weekly newsmagazine?
Because boards can be easily customized to fit any sales situation, any client. They don't require projectors, VCRs, outlets or anything else your client's office may not have. And they allow you to control the pace of your pitch and the dynamics of the situation. You can stop, take questions, emphasize certain points, occasion comments, direct the flow of discussion and make eye contact. In other words, board presentations allow your salespeople to sell -- something not easily done in a darkened room.
Is there a hitch? Yes. The quality and creativity of your boards can make or break a presentation -- and a sale. Too many are flat, dull and filled with numbers -- numbers presented without context and without any sense of (dare we say it?) fun.
It's not that numbers aren't important. They are. But numbers don't have to be numbing. Formal doesn't have to be frigid. And sometimes words and images can speak louder than statistics -- especially to people who already have those numbers at their fingertips.
A prominent ad sales manager once said that you sell people an inch at a time. If true, we'd like to present some guidelines for board presentations that can add some inches to your sales effort.
Ask yourself, What's the point of this presentation? If you're not sure, cut out this article and file it until you are. Once we sat in on a meeting where a sales rep went on and on about his idea for an elaborate category presentation. There was talk of a contest, of props, a video -- all kinds of things. At one point, a bright young marketing manager, clearly tired of the all-smoke, no-fire discussion, finally asked why the presentation was being planned. The rep squirmed, shrugged, and finally said, "Well, because we've always done a new one every year."
Presentations, and the precious time of your client and agency contacts, should be used only when you have something fresh to say. We like to think of presentations as telling a story, but you can't tell a story if there's no plot.
Get your ad staff on board, but keep them off the bridge. Your ad sales people are the ones who are going to have to personalize the presentation. Therefore, their input is essential -- but it also needs to be limited. We've seen situations when promotion writers and artists ended up as functionaries for salespeople, literally taking dictation, word for word, from the rep.
That's not only demoralizing, it's a waste of time and talent. As David Ogilvy once said about such creative back-seat driving, "Why keep a dog and bark yourself?" The reps know the client and the situation with the account better than anyone else. They should help decide what to say in this presentation, but not how to say it.
Think visual, think verbal. Print ad copywriters are often urged to "think visually." The same applies here: You have to think about how what you say will translate onto a 17" X 22" board, how it can be illustrated or graphically brought to life.
By the same token, you have to remember that a presentation is a form of oral communication. Technically, the presentation boards are a speech aid. So know your speaker -- or, if an entire staff is going to use the presentation, at least one of the speakers. Then, write it with that person in mind. Indeed, it's wise to spend a little time with the sales force to get a sense of what they're trying to communicate.
Boards aren't books, so don't write a novel. No one is going to read your board copy as carefully as you read the morning paper -- and think how fast you blow through that! So consider these tips as you sit down to write your presentation:
* Write tight: That means concise, punchy headlines. And any body copy longer than two or three sentences should usually be broken into bulleted points. Research shows that people will remember information better if it is presented in groups of three -- three words, three numbers, three brief, declarative statements about your magazine.
* Write bright: Keep it upbeat, light, moving and active. Open with a provocative question or statement -- and close with a call to action. If you write your presentation like a memo or a research report, you rep will see people's eyes begin to glaze over.
* Write to highlight: That is, write to highlight a key point that's being made by a speaker. That's one reason the same folks who write the presentations are often asked to write the script for the pitch.
Remember, a presentation isn't a show, but it should have a sense of continuity, a clear beginning, middle and end. And the end should leave the client with a clear sense of what your magazine is and how it can help solve his marketing problems.
Little touches make a big difference. As the late Walter Joyce, consulant and FOLIO: columnist, used to say, "Sprinkle your presentation with surprises." Whether graphic or verbal, surprises help illustrate or dramatize key points in the presentation.
How about a flip-flop board that opens to reveal the answer to a question, or a sound-effects board that announces a major editorial award with the sound of fireworks exploding (yes, it can be done, and for just about $10 per computerized noise-maker).
Entertainment Weekly used a simple device to dramatize how much time readers spend with the magazine. A digital clock was glued to the board, and as the rep talked about time spent with the magazine, the second clicked away (although not so many that the assembled media buyers began to worry about getting back to their desks).
Give your audience a reality check. What are you really selling? People, of course. Readers -- an audience that's involved with and responsive to your magazine. So what's the best way to demonstrate that? By injecting a bit of reality into your presentation, in the form of real responses and letters from readers. Two examples to get your wheels turning:
* In that same Entertainment Weekly presentation, a gatefold board was packed with postcards submitted to a contest in which readers were invited to vote on a new hairdo for ABC newsman Ted Koppell (our favorite was the dreadlocks). The board opened up and the cards came tumbling out. Members of the audience got to look at them, chuckle over them, and (although the rep had to clean them up later) the point about reader responsiveness was made.
* What if you have no readers yet? In a presentation for a start-up travel magazine, postcards written by the editorial staff from various exotic locations were placed on the boards next to mock passports, which included staffers' photos. This helped personalize the magazine in an innovative and surprising way.
Capture the unique look of your magazine. Although, ultimately, you are selling an audience, your rep's job is to convince media folks that yours is the appropriate vehicle to reach that audience. So you need to let those folks get a look under the hood of that vehicle.
Include a representative selection of tearsheets and covers. And try to design the presentation in a way that is consistent with the colors, design and typeface of your magazine. Think about lacing this presentation with some quotes from the editor about what he is trying to achieve. If you don't have any quotes, try talking to your editor: He won't bite -- in fact, he'll probably be eager to discuss his vision for the magazine.
Before you decide on size, determine the place. Where will this presentation be used? In what context? Is it a one-on-one, across-the-desk pitch? If so, the standard card sizes are 11" x 14" and 14" x 17", and they can be presented in an easel-backed binder. If it's a presentation for a conference room full of media buyers, the standard size is 17" x 22", with the boards set up on an easel.
If there are fewer than four sets, they should be hand-made, using colored paper, photostats, color prints and tearsheets mounted on thin, six-ply boards. Dont' use foam core boards (they may be light, but they are also bulky and unwieldy). If you are mass producing (five or more sets), it is usually more economical to silkscreen, with tearsheets glued on afterwards.…