Pitching the BHAG

Agency life has a lot of pros and cons. One of those pros is pitching. There is no more emotionally raw practice in business than putting your best ideas out there to be heralded as brilliant or rejected and shot down in flames. There is no in-between. No grey area here. You work tirelessly–sometimes for weeks–putting you absolute best foot forward for that one moment. One excruciating phone call to come in to tell you if you are worth anything, or if you should pack it all in and quit the business. And no matter the outcome–good or bad–you go back and do it all over again. Week after week. Nonstop.

But outside of the emotional roller coaster, you learn a lot when you pitch ideas for a living. You learn about people. You learn about persuasion, you learn how to read a room, you learn how the human psyche works. And you learn a lot about yourself. You learn how to confidently talk about yourself without sounding arrogant. You learn how to quickly and concisely convey a complex idea to someone in the confines of a stark, austere conference room. You constantly hone your craft and polish your bullshit.

And then there are moments when you say something impromptu in that pitch. It was unrehearsed. Probably an off-the-cuff answer to a question posed by the prospective client. But you quickly understand that this little epiphany is how you are going to pitch yourself to the next guy. It might last for 2 more pitches or 2 more years. Here is one that came out just this week that I’d like to share.

You see, at Elasticity we push the limits more than most agencies. Sometime to the point where our work can be shocking. We’ve used phrases like “break through clutter,” and “smart, strategic creative,” and even “kinetic potential” and “velocity index.” (we even had a mathematical formula for that last one – shocking). We know it gets results or we wouldn’t be in business. We know how to sell in the creative idea. But the message sometimes can hit a brick wall. It can seem like these programs are “fun add-ons” and not the core of what marketing is trying to do. And I couldn’t disagree more.

Here’s why. Have you heard the phrase “Big Hairy Audacious Goal?” If not, here’s a recap from Wikipedia:

“The term ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ (BHAG) was proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book entitled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.[1] A BHAG encourages companies to define visionary goals that are more strategic and emotionally compelling. A Big Hairy Audacious Goal is a strategic business statement which is created to focus an organization on a single medium-long term organization-wide goal which is audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible.”

Let me point out a few key phrases there: (i)strategic, (ii)emotionally compelling, (iii)audacious, and (iv)likely to be externally questionable.

A couple of real world examples:

  • Amazon: Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.
  • Google: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
  • Microsoft: A computer on every desk and in every home.

So why do i disagree? Because EVERY marketing effort should have it’s own BHAG. No CMO or marketing department lead, or any agency pitching a campaign should settle for anything less in their program than a big, hairy audacious plan and goal. Otherwise, why do it?

Every campaign should be strategic, emotionally compelling, audacious and likely to be externally questionable. Every campaign.

Here are some examples from our world:

  • H&R Block: we petitioned congress for a $250 tax credit for every mustached american to achieve several goals from commenting on the current tax code, to raising money for clean water in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Bud Light and CareerBuilder and more: petition the NFL to move SuperBowl from Sunday to Saturday in order to get more people to throw parties, go out to food/beverage businesses, and go to work the following Monday in better shape than the current billions of dollars of lost productivity we’re “achieving” currently.
  • Medical Device Startup: stop preventable head trauma injuries in all contact sports at all levels
  • and even a Pediatric Child Behavior Psychologist: Decode the mystery and frustration of communicating with all young girls and “end the drama” in all families and classroom settings.

None of these started with a list of tactics. No one came to us to “put up a web site,” or send out some mailers. We didn’t just think a cool Facebook app was going to do the trick. Together we took on a much bigger goal. One that meant something.

Hairy? Yes. Emotionally compelling? Check. Audacious? Of course! Likely to be externally questionable? We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Strategic? Absolutely. More so than anything else they’ve been pitched. They just didn’t know it at the time.

Now they do.

And for us? Well, back to the cycle of pitching. But we’ll be challenging each of our clients and prospects to think bigger. To challenge themselves. To spend their marketing dollars and effort on the BHAG. It works for business and it works even better in marketing.

Trust us. We’re hairy and audacious enough for this agency to grow for years to come.