Clients will always say yes to pitchers who tell a great story, and a great story invites listeners to keep wondering what happens next. If your audience can predict the end of your story before you even get there, then their interest level goes down. Stories that chase answers pique the interest of clients, and to do this your pitch needs to be molded into a story where the ideas are simplified and the focus is not on you, your product or service, but on what you can do to help solve the problem of your potential investors. Author of Brandscaping Andrew Davis learned the secrets to telling a compelling story that was fueled by his dream of working in The Muppets Show. Learn more about the rules of Brandscaping and how partnering with like-minded people can get you your audience.
Our guest is Andrew Davis, who has some great takeaways on how to make your pitch and your story so compelling. He said, “Start with assuming that the audience already knows what you want them to know. Don’t teach people when you pitch.” He has a whole strategy on how to turn browsers into buyers. You’ll want to be sure and see how he does that. He tells us all about working with Charles Kuralt and how telling stories is really all about chasing answers. If you want to be a good storyteller, and I highly suggest you learn how to do it, raise the stakes and get the audience to say, “What’s going to happen next?” Because the more you can do that, the more compelling and concise your pitch will be. Enjoy the episode.
Listen To The Episode Here
Brandscaping – Unleashing The Power Of Partnerships with Andrew Davis
I have a guest named Andrew Davis who’s an author of two books and he is a keynote speaker. He tells me marketing has never been more complicated, and I couldn’t agree more. People are bombarded with over 500 branded messages every day. He helps people cut through the clutter and get people to take action, which is what we love to do here at The Successful Pitch. He really is an expert on how to rethink marketing for the digital age. He’s written for Charles Kuralt and produced for NBC. He worked for The Muppets and MTV. He co-founded, built and sold a successful marketing agency. If that’s not enough, he’s produced documentary films and campaigns for big brands as well as tiny startups. He has this great title of one of the most influential marketers in the world. He’s appeared in The Today Show and in The New York Times. I think this is going to be a lot of fun. Andrew, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me. This is fun. This is a new show for me to talk about pitching. I enjoy it.
Your whole focus is getting business leaders how to grow their business and even impact their cities and leave a legacy. It’s a three-tiered step there, which I love. Let’s go back to your own little story of origin. You can choose how far back you want to go. You can take us to when you were ten. You can take us back to high school, college, whatever you want to do where you started to go, “I think I want to be an author or speaker or I want to work for MTV,” or saw The Muppets and said, “One day, I’m going to work there.”
If I go that far back, I wanted to be an actor. When I was a kid, my mom got me into some acting classes and I started out doing television commercials for Cadbury’s chocolate and Chevrolet and all sorts of other brands. In fact, I auditioned for ET, the movie. That’s how long ago we’re talking. I realized in high school that I wasn’t actually a really good actor but I really enjoyed the entertainment business and I wanted to be involved in television and film somehow. I went to college at Boston University. I studied television and film there. Right when I came out of college, I got my first job at a television station, producing two live shows. One was a call-in show. I was living in Boston at the time so it was a right wing Republican host in this Liberal state who would scream at the TV for an hour and try to get people to light up the phone lines. My job was basically to pick the least drunk person to put them on the air.
That sounds like a stand-up comedian.
It was awful. That was my foray into television. After that, I started working for The Today Show. I was a producer on Weekend Today and then The Today Show, The Daily Show version of it. I wrote for Charles Kuralt on his last television show. If you’re not old enough to know who Charles Kuralt is, you should look him up on YouTube. He’s an amazing storyteller. If you want to learn how to tell stories like a pro, just by watching him, you’ll learn a lot.
Let’s stop there then we can go back into your story of origin. Let’s double-click on Charles Kuralt and storytelling because that is what the whole concept of The Successful Pitch is. I’m always telling everybody whoever has the best story gets the sale. Whether you’re selling yourself to get hired, selling yourself to get your startup funded or selling to get new clients, run a pitch. What would you say are some of the secrets to Charles Kuralt being such a good storyteller? Tell us a story of working with him.
I think the key for Charles Kuralt was always that it had to be a human story. I think that works everywhere. It doesn’t matter what you’re pitching or to whom you’re pitching. Understanding the human element, how the emotions actually play is what’s really important because emotions are what lead to action while reason leads to conclusions. What you’re really trying to do is inspire people to act. Charles Kuralt was an unbelievably powerful human interest storyteller. He wanted to ensure that you were telling a person’s story that was relatable on a broader scale. He wanted you to find the themes within the story no matter what story you were telling. He was relentless with this. Even when you were pitching Charles Kuralt a story, if you were in the pitch meeting, you essentially were tasked within just a few sentences, telling me something amazing about a person that inspired me to ask a few questions immediately. If you could do that and get Charles Kuralt interested in hearing more of the story, he would approve the story and say, “Go tell the story.”
The other key I think for him was telling stories was all about chasing answers. That’s what he used to believe. If you’re telling a story where the end is predictable or I know what you’re driving to and I’m getting there faster than you’re getting me there, that’s a pretty boring story. Charles Kuralt always ensured that if your story was two minutes long or twenty minutes long, it didn’t matter how long it was, as long as the viewer was constantly chasing an answer in the story like, “What happened to the person? Does he ever finish fixing the car?” They could be very basic questions but as long as you were chasing the answer, you could have people riveted and emotionally invested in the story.
Listeners, your takeaway here is when you’re telling a story, clip an open loop in the story. In other words, don’t give all the answers away in the first 90 seconds. Intrigue people to want to know more.
I think most people’s mistakes, especially telling a story or definitely in a pitch is believing that, “I’ve got to give all the information in containers that are clean and simple.” Stories don’t work that way. In fact, I think the best stories invite the viewer or the consumer or the listener to constantly wonder what’s next. Just like you did in this story, if you’re wondering about my origin story still, maybe you don’t even care about telling stories, you want to know what happened after that Charles Kuralt job I had. That’s leaving people hanging and wondering what’s next.
How did you get from Charles Kuralt to The Muppets and MTV?
This is really a quick story of persistence. My dream job after I left college was actually to work at The Muppets. That’s what I really wanted to do. Even as a child, I had a magic and marionette show. It was called M&M Puppet Theater. I used to tour around doing birthday parties for $50. I was a terrible magician and not a very good puppeteer, but it was the genesis of this idea.
From $50 a pop as a semi-good magician to now where you are as this high-paid, famous, in-demand keynote speaker. That’s quite the hero’s journey there.
The Muppets was a job I really wanted. I actually started writing one handwritten letter every single month to someone at The Jim Henson Company and I would have it FedExed. I realized it was the only way at the time to get through the assistants because the assistants open so much mail. They would find these letters from me and just throw them away or throw them on a stack of stuff that the executives wouldn’t read. If I FedExed it, they would read it. I wrote 36 letters, just over a three years’ worth of letters before I finally got a phone call from a guy named Peter van Roden who was the executive in charge of production for The Jim Henson Company. He essentially said, “Andrew, thanks so much for all these letters over the last few years. We don’t have an opening for you. I don’t want you to waste money on FedEx anymore. You’re in our system and we’ll call you.” I said, “Peter, I totally appreciate that. If you would just give me a half hour to meet with you, you will no longer get any more FedEx letters, I guarantee it from me.” He agreed surprisingly enough. He said, “Come down tomorrow. I’ll give you a half hour.” I sat down with him for a half hour which turned into about an hour. By the end of the hour, he offered me a job as the production manager for the workshop, which is where they made the puppets. That’s how I got my job there.
First of all, the big takeaway for me is you’re investing in your belief in yourself to stand out from the crowd. That’s always a big a-ha moment. I’m sure if you’re making $50 a pop, FedEx even back then was expensive. Clearly you believed in yourself enough to invest in yourself to stand out from the clutter. That’s the first takeaway of that story. The second takeaway for me is you got the first no but you didn’t let them off the hook. You still said, “If you want these packages to stop, you still have to see me.” A lot of people would have just said, “You don’t have an opening? Okay, thanks, bye.” There’s the difference. Persistence but in a creative way. Secondly, giving them one out.
I’ll even add one more because I think what was weird about that, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was writing these letters, they weren’t just like, “Hire me.” What I was trying to do was research the industry as much as possible and even show them how thoughtful I was being about how they could maybe fix their business because this was actually in the 1990s. The Jim Henson Company was falling apart. Jim Henson had died in the early 1990s and they were really struggling to reinvent themselves. I had a format for each letter. It would start with a, “Congratulations,” or ”I heard,” and “What a big win.” Then it would say, “Have you thought about this?” Or, “I also saw this and maybe this would help build the business.” What I learned from actually writing the letters, even though I wasn’t getting a response, they became more and more a vehicle for me to learn about the industry. By the time he called, I didn’t really think I was going out on a limb and not taking no for an answer. I actually believed I could really help the company at that point.
I actually did this one more time. I wrote letters to Warren Buffett. In 2012, I sold a digital marketing agency that I had founded, called Tippingpoint Labs. I had founded it actually with a journalist friend of mine who I met at that first television station we talked about. When I sold the company, I was wondering what to do next, then I thought I would buy a newspaper. I don’t know if you’re aware, but Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, owns 60 newspapers and I thought, “I’ll write letters every week.” I wrote him a handwritten note about how he could save the newspaper industry. It took me less than the three years. It ended up taking about a year and a half but I ended up having a meeting with him in New York as a result of the letters I had written. Again, it was the same outcome. I think I learned a ton about the business as a result of writing the letters to him. I also published them on Tumblr which actually generated a huge amount of interest from some of the world’s largest publishers.
Haven’t you turned some of that strategy that you learned owning this digital agency into part of your keynotes now?
Yeah. The first book I wrote was called Brandscaping. After I worked at The Muppets, I worked at a couple of startups because everybody was leaving the television world in the late 1990s to work at the first dot-com boom. I got really into that as well, so I started working into marketing. I felt like I was working for really not smart marketers. My friend, Jim Cosco, and I founded Tippingpoint Labs in 2000 and we sold it in 2012. In 2012, I essentially said, “Let’s take all the knowledge that we learned at running an agency and turn it into a book.” I published the book when I left the agency in 2012. It’s a summation of what we learned, which is essentially partnering with other people to access your audience is a much better way to invest your money today than buying traditional media. That’s the short summary. A lot of that agency thinking has really propelled my speaking career but also helped me rethink marketing in general.
One of the things that we haven’t even touched on that is quite fascinating especially with what’s going on in the political landscape right now is you were a presidential advisor on the Russia relations from 2010 to 2012. Any insights on what that was like? There’s got to be a story there.
I can sum up that experience as a real clue into how the political system works but also how multinational negotiations work. I’ve been successful in the business world. I’ve been invited by the State Department and President Obama to be on a council. I do know a lot about the media. I had a lot of experience in the newspaper business as well and publishing. I was invited as well as six other people to be on this media relations and Russian relations team. I left really disillusioned not at any administration or people specifically, but on how slow and antiquated relationships work in the political sphere. It’s just not like I’m used to doing business, getting things done, and really having meaningful and substantive conversations with people. There was a lot of, “You just don’t do that. We don’t talk about the tougher issues early. We’ve got to build rapport and slowly bring in issues that they want to talk about.” Over two years, we did not get much done and that really disappointed me but it was a really interesting experience. There were people from the film industry. There were people from digital media. There were people from traditional newspapers, all six amazing people on the panel on the US side and on the Russian side. I learned a ton about the business in general.
Let’s jump ahead a little bit to what you’re talking about for 2018, which is your keynote about Raise the Stakes. Who’s that for and what are some of these simple secrets?
Chasing answers is one of the ways that storytellers help raise the stakes in telling a story. Raise the Stakes, the keynote that I’ve been giving since September is actually a fairly new one for me. It’s all about how people craft stories that actually get people to the end of the story, which in a digital age is very, very difficult. Especially if you’re thinking about watching on YouTube or even you’re listening to this podcast, there are lots of other opportunities for you to drop off and leave the consumption of the content. I spent about two years working through all the kinds of elements that I have even learned in television and in marketing that really do help tell a story that keeps people captivated and gets them all the way to the end, which is where you’re making your ask, where that call to action really is. Whether you’re pitching someone an idea or a business or just trying to make a sale or if you’re actually just trying to get across your core values for your company, all of these things are important. If they don’t make it to the end, you didn’t accomplish your goal of getting them to consume the entire length of the content. I didn’t tell you any of the secrets. I was getting you to chase the answer.
Tell us the story of a brand that uses the secret.
Let’s just use videos in general because they’re very easy for us to understand. How-to videos are really good example of videos that people get all the way through and that they cannot skip around. There’s a series of steps in a how-to video and you know you’ve got to get from point A to point B, so you’ve got to watch the whole thing if you want to get from point A to point B. Videos that are how-to videos keep people asking a question. The simple question there is, “What’s next?” If you’re giving a presentation or pitching something, if you keep them on the edge of their seats always asking, “What’s next?” that’s the most basic presentation or pitch or story you can tell. If you take it up a notch, raising the stakes is basically showing something that people really want, which could be your audience, it could be your customers, it could be the people that are sitting in the boardroom that you’re trying to pitch something to. Then threaten it as much as you can for as long as possible. That gets the tension really high and that’s when they’re interested in hearing how to solve this problem. The key to this is not solving the problem before you make the ask. At the height of their tension you’ve got to say, “Before I tell you how I solved all these problems or how these problems are going to be solved, I need $3 million from you. That is why I’m here.” Then you tell them how you’re going to solve the problem and then they’re interested in really answering that question because they were paying the most attention right before the release, the catharsis of that answer.
I’m always telling everybody that people buy emotionally and then back it up with logic. You’re talking about getting them at this emotional state where their brain is so alive and paying full attention that then you slip in what your ask is as opposed to them not associating that ask with any kind of emotional state.
You want them essentially at the height of their enthusiasm, anticipation, and interest for whatever is coming next. When it’s your ask, that’s the best time to get them to fully comprehend what you’re asking for and still want to know the answers to the question.
You also have this great thing called Momentum and how you turn people from browsers into buyers. Let me tell you, I talk about how to take people from invisible to irresistible, so nobody appreciates an alliteration as well as much as I do. The full alliteration is How Brilliant Businesses Turn Browsers into Buyers. That’s a brilliant piece of copy. Let’s double click on that and just open that up a little bit because everyone has that problem. Going from just browsing to your site and not clicking to buy, browsing from, “I’m looking at a bunch of resumes,” browsing from, “We’re looking at a lot of other speakers,” whatever it is.
I think the biggest issue actually is the approach in general. I think most of us, when we’re thinking about trying something new from a marketing or a sales perspective, we want to try the new stuff on a new prospect or customer immediately. I think that used to be the case. The smartest marketers and businesses today actually do the inverse. They experiment with their latest ideas, innovations, products, pitches, even marketing messages with their most loyal customers. I call them their loyalty loop. Instead of trying out your next big pitch on five investors in a big boardroom that you’ve never met before, the best thing to do is actually call someone you pitched two years ago that has heard you before and was maybe mildly interested and try the new pitch again. That way, you’re much more likely to get actual really good feedback.
This applies even for email. A lot of people spend a lot of time writing great content to put on their blog and the first thing they do is tweet it out. I think if you really want to build momentum, the first thing you should do is email it to your loyalty loop. You should think about it in two phases. One is just a few people that are very close to you that you really do respect the opinion of and this content would be relevant to them. You want very specific feedback. Instead of going right then to tweeting it out, wait for that feedback. Wait for them to consume the content and return to you with some feedback. Then take it to your wider loyalty loop. That might be everybody in your company or it might be everybody that subscribed to your email newsletter. What you’re waiting for is actually the half-life of the consumption of your content, which means you’re actually waiting for the most people possible to consume it, then as it start to wane in interest, then you want to take it to the next level.
I broke out down-building Momentum into four phases. Start with your loyalty loop. Then it’s essentially move on to your social networks one by one. Instead of tweeting it out first on Twitter and then two seconds later putting it on Facebook and three seconds later doing a YouTube video on a SlideShare. You’re vomiting it on everybody. Stop vomiting your content on everybody. We don’t want your puked content. The more strategic about when you distribute your content instead of where you distribute it, the better off you’re going to be in building momentum for it.
The third phase is actually buy ads. I know this is counterintuitive in an age where everybody says just social media will do the trick. If your content has been successful in those first two phases, investing in a new audience, attracting new people to your content is really important to your stuff, to your pitch, to whatever it is you’re working on. The final thing is PR. Most people do the inverse. They start with a big product launch or a big announcement or hoping to get in The New York Times with their new big idea at the very beginning. Today, you’ve got to think of it in reverse. It ends up looking like building a mountain instead of building a series of spikes.
You’ve been on television multiple times. I’ve had the privilege of being on television and I know that when you’re pitching to get on television, the better your segment idea is structured in four minutes or less, that they can have a sound bite that grabs people and it’s backed up by the fact that you’ve already got some traction is what you’re saying with this.
You need to show them some social proof that it’s actually already got momentum. They need to think that they’re going to propel it to the next level.
You and I have talked briefly that you have some tips that you’ve learned from pitching from television that people can apply to their business. Let’s begin with that.
In the late 1990s, I was also pitching a lot of reality TV shows. When I first started our agency, Tippingpoint Labs with Jim Cosco, he and I were going out to LA from Boston almost every month, pitching shows to everyone from the networks to agents. We spent a ton of time out there. First of all, learning how to pitch TV shows but then second of all, failing a ton. We must have pitched 500 or 600 shows. We got a few option shows and we got one produced, which was actually a really bad show. It was called Knock First and it was on ABC Family for a season. It was a good idea executed poorly, I think. The art of pitching especially in television, what I learned very quickly was just simplifying the idea very, very quickly to the core of what you’re actually doing. I think too many people pitch very complicated ideas in very complicated ways. It doesn’t mean that your idea is simple. It means the art of the pitch is simplifying it so that it can be understood quickly, consumed quickly, and they can make a decision very quickly if they want to hear more. That’s really important. When I said we’re chasing answers, you want to simplify it so fast so that they can make a decision. When you pitch a TV show and I don’t know if you’ve ever done this, John. Have you?
I have pitched a couple of reality show ideas in front of the people that know what they’re doing. You have to go like, “It’s ‘Liar Liar meets Oh, God!’ or it’s ‘Big Brother meets the Survivor.’” They need points of references really fast.
It’s called an analogy line. When you go into a pitch, you pitch the idea and you would pitch it just like you just did. Or you might say, “Fear Factor is ordinary people facing their fears by competing against each other in outrageously devised stunts.” They make a split second decision. They say, “No, I don’t like it,” or they say, “Tell me a little more.” That’s exactly what you’re trying to do, get people to chase those answers. You’re trying to simplify the ideas you present. The other thing was I realized there was a giant difference between crafting a pitch and just creating a presentation. I think people in the last ten years or twenty years have essentially believed the two are the same. Creating a presentation is just putting a deck together and then going in and reading the deck or telling a bunch of stories that are on your presentation slides or just presenting ideas. Crafting a pitch is all about building that story in the right way where you’re really simplifying the idea and you’re focusing not on who you are or what you do because they don’t care at that point. You’re actually pitching the idea first and waiting for them to ask a question.
You said something that I really want to underline for everyone listening which is, just because you simplify your pitch doesn’t mean you’re simplifying your product, your concept, your idea, whatever the value is of what you’re doing. Most people go, “I don’t want to dumb down what I’m doing.” I’m like, “You need to make it so simple and intriguing that people want to know more and not tell everything at once.” In fact, one of my favorite quotes from an investor was, “Don’t boil the ocean.” That’s what you’re saying here is simplify the pitch so you’re not trying to explain everything.
There’s a real art to that. It’s actually really, really hard. The most successful pitching people in the world are really good at simplifying big ideas. At Tippingpoint, we actually had five really simple pitching rules. The first one was, “Assume your audience knows everything you wish they knew.” That was rule number one. I think we spend too much time just in general teaching people and thinking they don’t know what we need them to know. In fact, if you just make the assumption they know everything you wish they knew, they either will ask or they won’t ask. They’ll look it up and all of that stuff keeps them interested in whatever it is you’re doing. When you over-teach, you’ll lose the audience. That was number one.
Two, “The audience doesn’t care what we know.” That’s a really important one. A lot of people pitch and they try to sound smart and look smart, and most people don’t care what you know really. If they do, they’ll ask. The goal is to keep them asking questions when we’re pitching. Number three I think was, “Pitch with unbridled enthusiasm.” Number four I think was, “Make no excuses,” which is a very controversial one because we even get really upset if somebody was late for a meeting. If you show up late for a meeting, which does happen, but the first thing you do is walk in and say, “I’m so sorry I’m late. The traffic was really bad.” You’re already off to a really bad start. Making no excuses for a pitch is really important. It doesn’t mean you don’t apologize, but we prefer that you apologize at the end instead of starting off that way. Number five is my favorite, “Pitch and stop.”
That includes an elevator pitch. If someone says to you, “What do you do?” that’s not an invitation for a ten-minute monologue.
Pitch and stop was the key. Actually full disclosure, I am the worst rule infraction person for that rule. In fact, Jim Cosco, my business partner, was the opposite and he would kick me under the table. It was clear I just needed to shut up and let it go. I really do think there’s an art to pitching. The last one is, “Go big or go home.” I think there are too many people pitching great ideas but not pitching them as if this is their big pitch. This is something I learned in acting in the very early days.
Every audition is like the Super Bowl, right?
That’s right. A casting director told me once that I needed to ham it up, which is surprising for someone like me. If you’ve ever seen me speak, you’d be surprised. What her point was, she even said to me after I did the next take she said, “I need you to go even further.” She had to say this four or five times and I could still keep going further. I kept pushing it. She said, “I want you to go as outlandishly big and crazy as possible on this take.” I did and she was like, “That’s what I wanted.” When I asked why, she said, “Unless I know what you’re capable of, I don’t know how to pull you back. That’s a lot easier than pushing you forward.” I think that goes the same for a pitch. You’ve got to really bring all the enthusiasm and fun that you have. Bring it to the pitch, really deliver it in a way that really does excite the people that you’re presenting to in the manner you’re presenting. Forget about the idea. I’m talking about the way you actually pitch.
At the end of the day, people are going to hire people that they like being with. I was working with a big architectural firm, pitching to do a big airline renovation for five or six years. They were told, “We’re going to hire the people we like and not who has the best design because we’re going to work with you for five or six years.”
“It’s going to be a six-year endeavor. I don’t want to hire people I hate.”
That pitch, you better come across to someone that they want to work with, that’s fun, and all that stuff. People so often leave out that characteristic and they think, “I just have to show my stuff.” I loved everything, and especially with assuming that the audience already knows what you wish they knew so you’re not teaching them. That’s really great stuff.
I made all the mistakes that led to these rules.
That’s what audience relate to. When you’ve been in their shoes, that’s everything. You have a book called Brandscaping and another wonderful book called Town INC. Let us know the best way to follow you on social media because we know you’re not going to vomit on us. Give us your Twitter handle or your website, all that good stuff.
My Twitter handle is @DrewDavisHere. You can find me there. My website is AkaDrewDavis.com. It’s mostly speaking because that’s all I really do these days, which is lots and lots of fun. I’d love to hear from you. If you’re listening to the show and have pitching questions, pitching is something I’m passionate about but don’t talk about very often so this has been really fun, John. My email address is ADavis@MonumentalShift.com.
Andrew, thanks so much for being on the show. You’ve jazzed us up like you do your keynote audiences. I’m sure anyone who’s ever lucky to hear you speak out there, event planners that might be listening to this that you walk your talk. That’s for sure.
Thanks a lot, John. This has been awesome.
- Andrew Davis
- The Jim Henson Company
- Tippingpoint Labs
- Raise the Stakes
- Town INC.
- Andrew’s Twitter
- Charles Kuralt
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