At some point in the days leading up to a big pitch you have to make the call; “Will I win this with a BIG risky, single-focused idea or will I win it by being really smart about covering all the bases with a comprehensive, professional and deliverable programme”. The right choice depends on many things including how good that idea is; how appropriate your team/agency offer is; are you the incumbent or new to the client; what sort of people you are selling to and, crucially, how you think your competitors will play it. I guess winning an election is a little more complex than winning a pitch, but it has seemed to me from the outset that Mark Penn (who’s book Microtrends I think is a must read) has gone for the safe and thorough route. And why not, they were front-runners and had most to lose, but Obama, like the challenger agency, unshackled by familiarity and the timidity of incumbency went for the big simple gorgeous idea.

Hillary’s initial slogans “Renew the Promise of America” and “In to Win” betrayed this cautious and competent focus, but when you compare them to the performances of Obama and his “Change We Can Believe In” rhetoric it all looks a bit humdrum. They seem to have been caught completely flat-footed by the other guy’s big idea. In a big pitch, at some point you have to shelve the rear-view mirror of research and imagine what might be; how you might make people think and feel, not what they did think and feel in the past. I have always thought that research is massively helpful but is basically a reductive process and at some stage you have to let imagination take over. Research should inform strategy but not lead it.

[tags] Mark Penn; Hillary Clinton: Obama; Pitch [/tags]

Mind you as I have run precisely zero political campaigns what the hell do I know?