Life’s a Pitch say advertising mavens

This is a review of Life’s a Pitch by Stephen Bayley and Roger Mavity. (Actually, it’s a chance for me to quote them, criticise them, give them some grudging praise, make a joke or two and display my own prejudices. Another disclosure: the publishers sent me a free copy of the book to review.)

The authors, both advertising mavens, reckon that everything we do is a matter of presentation and persuasion. Well, they would, wouldn’t they. I was attracted by the bold red cover and the subtitle

How to be businesslike with your emotional life and emotional with your business life.

But I was also skeptical that a book about pitching, like books on networking (socially, not with Cat5) and ‘winning friends and influencing people’ might leave me sadder but no wiser.

The first half of the book is full of the kinds of obvious-but-nicely-put tips that you might find in the blogosphere:

  • Put time in your diary for thinking.
  • Groups of three or four are more creative than committees of six or seven
  • When brainstorming, use a 2B pencil so you “physically can’t write in fine detail”
  • A pitch is a story about a problem and a resolution
  • Write a summary. Work hard on it but put it at the end of the pitch
  • Write your pitch BEFORE you start working in PowerPoint
  • Don’t read out what’s on the slides
  • If you’re going to an interview, read the company’s annual report first
  • Passion beats logic (which is presumably why corporations refer to their own passion frequently and with the sincerity simulator turned up to maximum)

The authors have a nice line in friendly but punchy copy. Try this: “PowerPoint is to communications is to cooking.” The book reads well.

On the other hand, it feels that the authors, or perhaps their designer or publisher, weren’t that confident about the length or depth of the material. The type is large and there is lots of white space on the page. Nearly every page is broken up with a large pullquote. Did they want the book to be as big as physically possible? It’s 250-ish pages long but could probably fit in a 60 page paperback with a different design. Does anyone write essays or tracts any more?

This is obviously a book of two halves. Early in the book, the opportunity to run full colour illustrations is wasted on snippets of clip art – a calculator, a box of pencils and so on. In the second half, eclectic images, such as the picture of Brunel and his chains, lift the text and enhance it. This suggests that the second half of the book, on personal pitching, is where the authors’ hearts were. This feeling is reforced by the writing. It is prosaic but worthy in the first half and becomes rich and irreverent in the second.

I would give the first half of the book – on pitching in business -5/10 for effort. There are some useful observations based on experience but there are blogs, such as Presentation Zen, which will get you there faster and better.

The second half of the book, which is the bit I thought I would dislike, turned out to be a delightful combination of historical anecdote and a sexualised updating of Dale Carnegie’s classic, as applied to letters, lunch and language. 10/10 for panache.

PS The title’s not the best thing about this book, but it is typical of the authors’ attitude and style. Still, Don Peppers got there first with a different book and a better title: “Life’s a pitch, and then you buy.”

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