7 terrible things to say when pitching an idea

You can’t guarantee confetti flying and champagne corks popping every time you toss out a creative gem, but you can keep from shooting yourself in the foot—while it’s in your mouth.

Digital marketers spend a lot of time pitching new ideas—to their clients, to their bosses, to their own teams. That’s a good thing: New ideas are what make this industry such an interesting place to be.

In an industry that revolves around the art of the pitch, some of us are quite bad at it. We say inappropriate things. We stick our feet in our mouths. We back ourselves into corners. We put other people in the room on the defensive.

Whether you’re trying to sell a client on an innovative marketing concept or introducing a new idea to your internal team, the words you use are crucial. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can shut down a roomful of open minds in an instant.

If you’re trying to sell your great idea, don’t let these phrases come out of your mouth.

“The way we’ve been doing this is ridiculous.”

The above statement very well might be true; it probably is. Especially if you’re pitching an internal process change, there’s a good chance that your idea sprang from existing inefficiencies or ridiculous practices. It can be very tempting to open your pitch by pointing this out, but before you do, stop and think a moment.

Odds are good that the person responsible for that ridiculous way of doing things is sitting in the room with you. Even if the person responsible for the genesis of the ridiculousness isn’t there, the people who have been executing on the existing protocol probably are. If you attack their ideas or, worse, the way they do their jobs, they’re very likely to go on the defensive. And that’s not going to work out for anyone.

So, rather than point out how silly the current processes are, point out how your idea improves on current processes—and makes everybody’s jobs easier and more productive.

“No one has ever done this before.”

Being first is exciting. When you have an idea that you think is novel, it’s tempting to want to brag about how original your thought process is. But slow down there, tiger. Although being first is exciting, it’s also scary—especially to clients, who have to have some sort of precedent for believing that an idea might actually work.

So, even if your idea does break a lot of new ground, don’t make that the focal point of your pitch. Rather, describe the idea and point to examples of companies that have done something similar—even if only vaguely similar—and explain why your idea is even better. Being cleverly iterative is a much easier sell than being recklessly innovative.

“I haven’t thought that through yet.”

If you haven’t thought your idea through yet, why in the hell did you call a meeting already? Do people the courtesy of at least acting well prepared. Better yet, be well prepared.

Yes, honesty is an excellent policy. Some even say it’s the best, but those people aren’t marketers. Marketers know that there’s a time and a place to act smarter and better equipped than one might actually be. That time and place is when you’re pitching ideas.

If, during the course of your pitch, someone asks a question that you haven’t considered, don’t simply admit that it hadn’t occurred to you. A far better response is to say that it had and that it’s an issue you’d like to consider more, or, better yet, it’s an issue you’d like to have the team’s help in hashing out.

In other words, it’s perfectly acceptable to point out that you wanted to pitch the high-level concept to the team before delving too deeply into the weeds, but you shouldn’t let an unexpected question derail your pitch by making you appear unprepared.

“I wouldn’t be the person responsible for this.”

Quite often, we pitch ideas that we wouldn’t ultimately be executing ourselves. That’s the nature of the game. The best ideas often come from people who have no idea how to actually accomplish them, and that’s totally fine. But quite often, the execution of new ideas requires a lot of grunt work. So, in pitching your idea, you must recognize the potential burden that you’re putting on someone else’s plate. You can’t just give the impression that you’re dumping a giant concept into someone’s lap and then running away from the hard work.

This is where asking questions comes into play. When you go into a pitch, make sure you know who would probably be responsible for each slice of the execution. Then make sure you ask questions that show them that you understand what they’ll be taking on: “Is this possible given current resources?” “What would you need from me to make this work?” “How can I help you in moving this idea forward?” These are all important questions to ask, and they demonstrate that you understand—and appreciate—the amount of work that you’re requesting. Make sure you position the idea as one whose success relies on a complete team effort.

“We’ll figure out how to gauge the success of this later.”

If you haven’t given thought to measurement yet, don’t call the meeting. Far too many ideas get pitched—particularly to clients—before any thought is given to how the success or failure of the idea will be gauged.

It’s not surprising that this happens. After all, attribution and analytics and all the underlying spreadsheets, databases, and math aren’t what excite most marketers. (There are notable and admirable exceptions. You know who you are.) But measurement is necessary—very necessary—and it shouldn’t be an afterthought.

You don’t have to have a rock-solid tracking and analytics plan in place before you call the pitch meeting, but you should have given the issue some thought. You should at least be able to speak intelligently on the matter and ask the right questions of the true analytics geeks in the room.

“We need to do this because so-and-so did it.”

Not all ideas are golden originals. Quite often, a campaign or internal change is about keeping pace rather than revolutionizing the world, but that doesn’t mean that’s how you have to set the stage.

Don’t admit that you’re just being a follower with an idea. No one feels good about just playing catch-up. Give consideration to your company’s or client’s unique needs and make the case for your idea based on the benefits the idea will bring the organization—beyond simply not falling behind. Get people excited about the idea, no matter the competitive reasons. Yes, that other company already did it. But make sure you tell everyone in your meeting why you’re going to do it better.


This might be the most important word to avoid in a pitch meeting. Check that negativity at the door, bub. The only word you want on people’s minds when you pitch an idea is, “Yes!”

When people try to weigh in on your idea or augment it, don’t go on the defense. Treat everyone’s opinion as being valid and try to work with them—even if they’re being ridiculous and will ultimately need to let go of their hare-brained notions. A pitch meeting is not the place to be shooting down other people’s ideas. You need them on your side.

So smile. Listen to ideas. Nod and look thoughtful when people offer critiques. Make clarifications and qualifications when needed. Just don’t say, “No.”

Drew Hubbard is a social media strategist and owner of LA Foodie. A version of this article first appeared on iMediaConnection.

Topics: PR


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