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How to ‘sell’ creative ideas to decision makers

01 Jun, 2020 Creativity and innovation, Persuasion, influence, motivation

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

Generating creative ideas is only half the battle. It is difficult enough to come up with a new creative angle, but then we often have to sell the wonderful idea to decision makers who are just not on the same wavelength. Most communicators are familiar with this problem. So what can we do about it?

In fact, it can be extremely difficult to get decision makers to back an idea. They might have a different agenda, may be preoccupied with other matters, and may be playing politics with your sound idea.

Nevertheless, there are some street-smart ways to increase the chances of senior management or clients accepting your new concept. It pays to sit down and think through the ways you can do this. Make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare the ground ahead of an important presentation to the executive committee or similar.

Prepare the way for making your case to decision makers

The street-smart range of actions includes:

  • Find out if there is an established process for presenting new ideas to your organization’s decision makers. Determine if innovations need to be presented in a certain way, and what level of detail is expected with ideas. Ensure your presentation clearly shows how the creative concept aligns with your organization’s vision and mission.
  • Legitimize the source of the idea. Involve management or client in the brainstorming process. It is essential to get your boss’s clear support for the idea, especially if their support is documented, eg in an email or their sign-off on a documented proposal. Seek further credibility by getting a respected external person or group to support the idea. Transfer ownership or (some) credit for the idea by allowing your boss, senior manager, client or committee to be perceived as the source of part or all of the idea (the extent depends on your assessment of the situation).
  • Meet individually with committee members days before the meeting so you are able to convince them, answer questions and head off problems ahead of time, or at least have time to work out a suitable response to tough questions. At least meet with your supporters so they can get used to the idea and sound knowledgeable in the meeting in front of their peers. Briefing others before the presentation also heads off the unjustified attempt by some people to claim credit where none is due. The extent you do this depends on your assessment of the situation. This integrates with the first tactic.
  • Timing. Consider the practical aspects of timing. When presenting ideas to a committee, try to avoid a slot when the committee members are likely to be distracted or are tired, for example, first thing in the morning, last thing in the afternoon, close to lunchtime, last item on the agenda, etc. Experts like Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino recommend avoiding decision making situations late in the day.
  • Translate the idea. This is probably the main reason for failure to convince. You need to explain the idea within the span of knowledge of your audience, and to explain it in their terms and in ways that relate to all three of their visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (touch or tactile) senses.
  • Keep within brand values. Ensure the idea is consistent with the brand values and broader cultural values of the organization.
  • Presenting within the context of a relationship. It is important to understand the audience—their politics, budgets, and background attitude.
  • Lead up to the key idea after discussing the need and benefits in making a presentation (advertising people are very good at this).

These tactics are used by UK creativity expert Andy Green and adapted from his stimulating book Creativity in Public Relations.

About the author and editor Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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