It’s not often that I read ‘business’ books, being a fan of fiction, but in this case I’m going to put pen to paper for Kevin Allen’s ‘The Hidden Agenda’. A book that aims to impart the secrets of a perfect pitch and turn you into a ‘winner’1, based on Allen’s long career at some of the world’s biggest agencies.
Having been in ‘agency world’ for the majority of my career, I was keen to see how his approach matched both my own thoughts and my experiences.
Allen is best known for being behind the Mastercard ‘Priceless’ campaign – a wildly successful and much parodied campaign that is still running worldwide today, despite being fifteen years old – and although he tries to play down his part in the campaign throughout the book, it forms a central theme throughout. It’s a strong theme though, and it pays dividends as you make your way through the book.
Allen’s approach is broken down into four clear stages that you can absorb into your pitch skills. As methodologies go, Allen’s is a simple one. It’s based on a large helping of common sense, but for the inexperienced his advice is sage. For those of us who have been in pitches – win or lose, and I’ve done plenty of both – there will be plenty to identify with.
From brief to pitch, Allen moves through three main stages, each illustrated with stories and personal insights:
In the first section of the book, Allen focuses on understanding who you are pitching to and trying to uncover the hidden agenda that lies behind the black and white requirements of the brief. By showing you how to listen and question effectively, it’s possible to understand the emotional make-up of your audience and align your pitch to their underlying needs.
In the “What” section, he explores how you can bring your internal strengths to bear on a pitch. Identifying your complementary strengths helps you to align your team and pitch to the hidden agenda.
Finally, the book looks at the art of the pitch, which is, to all intents and purposes, the art of storytelling. Allen shows how you can identify heroes and villains within the brief, and take the client on an emotional journey with you.
Allen’s methodology does not focus on solutions, this isn’t a book that will make you more creative or give you an in on the latest trends, but it will help you to deliver your creativity in a meaningful and effective way. This is neatly shown in the last pages of the book, where he gathers together a number of examples of real-life pitches and breaks them down, showing the inputs and outputs of each stage. It’s here that the book really comes together.
The methodology is backed with some simple tools and techniques to help you apply it in your own work. These aren’t mandatory, but are a welcome addition to the book, as are the accompanying videos and support materials on the book’s website. These additional materials are clearly marked with an icon as you read through.
“the Hidden Agenda is a book worth reading”
If you’re new to pitching, or even new to agency life, the Hidden Agenda is a book worth reading. It’s simple enough and broad enough to take onboard at first read, and it’s not onerous. It’s also worth reading if you’re part of a non-agency Sales team; as Allen rightly points out, we all pitch everyday even if we don’t know it – it’s there every time we try to ‘sell’ ourselves. Even if you decide not to take everything on board, you’ll still come away with some valuable learning. It certainly helped me to take a healthily self-critical look at my pitching style and identify the things I did naturally well and those I needed to work on. Since I finished the book, I’ve found myself replaying some of the lessons as I’ve been working, which I think reflects well on it.
You can find out more about the book at its website (http://thehiddenagendabook.com), or purchase it from all major book or e-book sellers. Or if you want to hear about the book from the horses mouth, watch this video.
1 This is one of Allen’s favourite words – you’ll hear it a lot.
Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a review copy of the book supplied to me. I have no business relationship with Kevin Allen, KevinAllenPartners or Bibliomotion (the publishers). I have not received any monetary incentives or payments. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent.
Have you read the Hidden Agenda? What did you think? What did you take from it? I’d be interested in your comments.