We've all monkeyed about for cash
A view from Sue Unerman

We've all monkeyed about for cash

"NHS managers dress as witches to dole out funds."

This was the headline in The Sunday Times earlier this month that you might have missed (the news has been quite full on so far this year).

It explained that at one group of hospitals, staff have had to "dress up as monkeys and blow toy trumpets to win funding for their projects". Projects to the value of hundreds of thousands of pounds. One senior consultant is reported as saying: "Frankly, many of us think this is too ridiculous for words." Each meeting to pitch for funds - for items such as miniature cameras for bowel examinations - has a theme, including Halloween (hence the reference to witches).

Can you, in the world of media and advertising, imagine a situation where pitching for serious budgets - maybe even millions of pounds, let alone hundreds of thousands - involved dressing up and stunts?

During a run of successful pitches at MediaCom at the start of this millennium, there was a lot of dressing up involved. There was a chat-show format that we employed for one pitch. For another, our beloved ex-chairman dressed as the mascot of one famous newspaper in full armour. At a time when media agencies tended to present exclusively from rather dry Excel spreadsheets, delivered mainly by middle-aged men in suits, our approach - always with a serious point - certainly stood out. If there were four media agencies all promising to buy more cheaply, differentiating ourselves was important.

Once news of the success of our approach spread, things changed, of course. When three out of four pitches involved rollerblades, ice skates and a brass band, then the point was lost. And pitch day must have been a bit confusing.

These days, there's a good deal more to talk about in the limited time you have during a pitch too.

The NHS has such a serious purpose - keeping us alive - that it might feel dissonant for a parade of monkey-attired executives to be pitching for cash.

If there's a serious point that can be amplified and clarified by some dressing up, however, then we should adopt any storytelling device that makes it clear.

Stunts for the sake of it, though? It is worth bearing in mind that many busy managers, under continual pressure to demonstrate ROMI and improve the bottom line, can forgive most things at work apart from having their time wasted.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom
@SueU