I remember going to John Steele presentation and laughing my head off (silently). It was fantastic, as you can well imagine, but bits of it were far removed from my life as planner and, I suspect, yours.
What I found mirthful, was his story about the three month run up to pitch. That's right, three months. That's probably common if you're WPP pitching for Samsung global or something, but not the day job of most planners. Certainly not mine.
My reality is 'yesterday', I bet it's yours. Ever faster lead times by ever more demanding clients. Pitches with four, three, even two week turn arounds. Which means being great fast, and that's not easy.
Perversely, though, I find something quite liberating about a looming deadline. No time for egos, 'best practise' posturing or mooning over one word in a proposition for days. It forces people to work to together, the siege mentality builds relationships and cameraderie like nothing else. It also forces a bit of chaos into proceedings and messes up the 'proprietary process' we're increasingly expected to follow, job functions are blurred.
You're well out if the comfort zone, where you need to be if you're going to do anything remarkable. By all means, pretend to the client the work got here through clinical professonalism, just don't believe the hype. Agencies function best through just about managing rampant chaos, not by pretending to be laywers. .
However, removing the temptation of procrastination and tearing up the rule book isn't enough. It is hard thinking fast, you still need to time to make connections and piece the puzzle together. Here's what's worked for me, based on two simple truths:
a. Your subconsious is cleverer than you. Fill your brain with as much info, issues and fodder as you can and it will work on your behalf while you do something else.
b. Your first instincts tend to be right, trust them
1. Be ruthless selecting your team. Put together a core team of one lead planner, one lead creative team and one suit. That's it. You haven't time for management meddling, or massigning the ego of anyone else 'who'd really love to be involved'. And make sure it's a team who enjoy working together, or you are sure will gel quickly. You'll need a supporting cast, but's that exactly what they are. Bring them is as and when they're needed.
2. Each member spends one day cramming as much info about the brief as they can into their heads, collecting fodder and basically absorbing so much their brains beg for mercy. Then spend a long evening enjoying something that has nothing whatsoever to do with work, letting your subconscious do its work.
3. The next day, lock them in a room. No phones, no interruptions, just caffiene, water and food (and toilet breaks). Don't mess about with workshop techniques or formal brainstorm stuctures. Just talk, kick things around, share what you've learned. Just don't leave until you have a direction and the beginnings of a creative brief. It will just emerge out of conversation.
Then stop and agree this is what you will be working on. Trust your insticts. The rest of the procees is bringing these instincts to life and proving they don't have shit for brains, As long as you've done the hard work before and genuinely thought long and hard about the issues and got as much fodder as you can, it should be fine.
4. The planner writes up the strategy for the next day and it's shared to your wider team. As with all briefings, listen, treat it as a springboard to a conversation, be open minded, invite debate, let people tear into it and build a better version of what you've already written emerging. Perhaps a completely new version.
5. Then go your seperate ways and let chaos reign for a while. Creatives turn the strategy into pant wetting gold. The planner goes out and bashes, rips and generally beats up the strategy until it's genuinely water tight. If any development gems come out of that for creative stimulus, throw them in. Do not change the strategy unless you come back with something genuinely better and with more creative potential. The planner should explain the strategy to as many people as possible, anyone. Mirror neurons means you actually put yourself in the position of your audience and quickly show you what to improve, while the rigour of explaining it succinctly and defending against inevitable questions shows you where it's leaky.
6. Likewise, if creative development throws up a blinding idea that's off brief but is much better strategically, ditch the original thinking without a flicker of ego and work double quick to make it water tight.
7. The suit pushes things along, makes sure everything happens loosely on time, sources costs, keeps everyone in check and provides that invaluable sounding board. There are daily updates with the core team. But in between, there are many conversations. Everyone needs an open door policy, have coffee, go to the pub share, bat stuff around and generally shoot the breeze. This is where the real work is done.
8. At some point,earlier than is 'normal' you'll have an agreed strategic idea, creative interpretation, comms plan and budget timings. It will be all be chaotic. Now it's time to ruthless to knock into shape and getting presentation ready. Wirite it all as work is still being finalised, it not only saves you time, the act of precis, distillation etc acts as a final sense check on all the work and brings them much closer together.
Never forget, 70% of a pitch is how clients respond to you. That means loking enthusiastic (trumps slick every time), like you enjoy being around each (original selection should have taken care of this) and you are open and care what clients think. Much of that last point is knowing the presentation inside out, not only so you can actually talk to them, not read from a script, but also to allow for questions, interruptions and your audience wanting to get involved.
Hope this helps