Pitch rehearsals in the dark
A view from Sue Unerman

Pitch rehearsals in the dark

Men may have outnumbered women on stage by some margin at the Marketing Society conference that closed 2014, but the women who did feature were amazing.

Kirsty Wark chaired the day with charm. Carolyn McCall never disappoints. She's always great, either personally, where she is nothing but kind, or professionally, where she is always as impressive as her reputation. Sarah Sands talked about taking the London Evening Standard from paid-for to free – a real step change in business model.

Orit Wolf opened the conference on the grand piano with an amazing Chopin performance. She then returned to the stage to talk about her experiences in her professional life. She is at the top of her profession, and it is always a joy to see someone perform at this level, whatever their job, when the passion is clear – whether a sportsman, an entrepreneur, a chief executive, a marketer or, in this case, a musician. (The agenda for the day included all of the above and more.)

Wolf spoke about when things go wrong and how the overcoming of these problems teaches us about how to reset the agenda (the overall theme of the day) and the importance of learning to improvise. One anecdote involved her arriving, early in her career, to find that the piano she was expected to perform on lacked a key. The C-sharp key had come lose and was lying next to the piano. She instantly demanded a tuner to repair the instrument but was told they did not work weekends. When she said she couldn't go on with a missing key, the man she was dealing with waved at the keyboard and pointed out that all the other keys were intact and asked if she could make do. Wolf called for superglue and improvised.

Things go wrong for all of us sometimes, and yet we have a culture of rewriting history to make it look as if it all went smoothly – we work in marketing services, after all.

Wolf suggests that we all write a CV of our failures. She is an advocate of practising with her eyes closed. It ensures that you really know your stuff. Pitch practices in the dark, without any IT and with someone throwing a curveball in the room. Let’s do it.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom