Kill the Capabilities Deck

This Old Crutch Does Nothing for Agencies or Clients

By Published on .

Darryl Ohrt
Darryl Ohrt
Since our agency was acquired, we've been meeting with more large brand teams than ever before in our agency's history. This is awesome. But there's something that I've noticed they all share in the expectations department: the capabilities deck.

We used to have a motto at our agency proclaiming, "We don't do decks." And for the most part, we're not very deck-centric. We've avoided the 200-slide presentations that you see larger agencies use to present everything from capabilities to strategic initiatives to concepts. We'd much rather share a real conversation instead of bullet points.

Which got me to thinking -- can we do business without a capabilities deck?

  • Our agency websites more than capture the energy and voice of our agency.

  • The work profiled on our agency sites showcases our top-level capabilities.

  • A real meeting (or phone call) can review more recent success stories.
I don't think clients like decks any more than we do. I've seen other agencies present their decks, and they pretty much all contain the exact same thing:
  • A slide featuring the agency motto or philosophy that positions them as cool and fun to work with. Or serious and all about your business.

  • A slide filled with impressive logos that the agency has done business with.

  • A slide illustrating agency services, proving that the agency can do anything from media strategy to piloting small aircraft.

  • Several slides of impressive case studies showing how the agency has changed the world as we know it.

  • A slide with Twitter, Facebook and other social-media logos (including a couple the client hasn't heard of before) clearly showcasing the agency's social-media expertise.

So why do we need the deck? The capabilities deck has become an expected formality. And I'd bet that clients are just as tired of viewing them as agencies are presenting them. Only nobody's stopped the merry-go-round to say "We don't need or want this."

If you're on the client side, do you need this formality? Agencies: Can you do business without your deck?

What if we just eliminated the deck completely? Here's how a meeting might take place:

  • Exchange not only pleasantries, but talk about the real people in the room. Devote 10 minutes to sharing a real overview of the people you're introducing and meeting. (Think speed dating.)

  • Show some work. Preferably without slides. Bring up a browser, and show something recent and/or live -- that's not on the agency website -- and talk about the challenges that were overcome and the goals that were met. What were the unexpected circumstances that surprised everyone? How did you work through surprises/changes/new challenges? How is this relevant to the client in the room?

  • Talk about problems. And ideas for solutions.
We've used this format in a handful of new-client meetings and found it refreshing. The format led to more two-way conversations than a presentation deck typically does, and everyone leaves the room with a better feeling for who they've just met. I believe it also leads to faster conversations about business -- because it's eliminated the unnecessary formalities.

Want to give it a try? Leave your deck at home on the next new client meeting. Let's change our world, one deck at a time.

Darryl Ohrt is a former punk rocker and chief contributor to the greatest blog in all of the land, BrandFlakesForBreakfast. While his official title is president, his business card says he's "Prime Minister of Awesome" at Humongo, a Source Marketing company. Darryl knows just enough to be dangerous. He's on the internet right now, playing, investigating and exploring. Watch out.
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