Dave Trott: Life's a pitch

Paul Smith was a producer, he made programmes for television.

At least he did when he could sell them.

He’d been trying to sell a particular idea for two years.

It was a quiz show where the correct answer was from a choice of four on screen.

If the contestant got all the answers right, eventually they could win a million pounds.

Smith had sent it to the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, but no one would touch it.

What kept him going was one person loved it: Claudia Rosencrantz at ITV.

She showed it to her boss, David Liddiment.

But Liddiment was worried about the whole idea.

He told her he could lose a million pounds an episode with the answers on the screen.

Paul Smith said he wanted a chance to present it to Liddiment, himself.

Smith knew there was no point in a logical argument.

The only way was to get him to play the game.

So first off he asked Liddiment to take his wallet out.

Then he asked him how much was in it, Liddiment counted out £210.

Smith said: "Okay add an IOU for £40, making it £250, and put it all on the desk."

Then Smith took out an envelope containing £250 and placed it next to Liddiment’s money.

He said: "If you can answer a question, the whole £500 is yours, if not you lose your £250".

And he showed him the choice of four answers.

Liddiment started asking Claudia Rosencrantz which she would pick.

Smith said: "You’re using your "phone-a-friend" lifeline".

Liddiment said okay, but he and Claudia couldn’t agree on the answer.

Smith said: "You could use your ‘50/50’ lifeline".

Liddiment said okay, so Smith took away two of the answers.

And Liddiment guessed the right one from what was left.

Smith gave him the whole £500 and said "That’s all yours, unless you want to double it by answering the next question".

And he put an envelope containing £500 down next to it.

Then he showed him the four choices.

Liddiment started discussing them with Claudia Rosencrantz.

Smith said "Hang on, you’ve used the ‘phone-a-friend’ lifeline. You can’t use it again."

Liddiment asked what options he had left.

Smith said "You’ve got your ‘ask-the-audience’ lifeline."

So Liddiment opened his office door and began discussing it with all the staff sitting outside.

But everyone had a different opinion of the answer.

Liddiment frowned and closed the door.

He said to Smith "No, I’m going to take the £500 instead".

And at that point, Paul Smith knew he’d sold the idea.

Because Liddiment saw he wouldn’t lose a million pounds an episode.

The "sunk cost" heuristic would prevent it.

And David Liddiment was hooked.

In fact he loved the idea so much he arranged to run the show every single night of the week.

And Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? went on to pull in bigger audiences than Eastenders.

And it only happened because Paul Smith stopped expecting the client to understand the game rationally, and got the client to feel it.

Because, as Daniel Kahneman says, that’s where the sell happens.

Paul Smith moved the sell from system two thinking (slow, rational) to system one thinking (fast, emotional).

As in any sell, desire must precede permission.


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