Stop trying to please everyone else and be a real person, writes Ian Whitworth.

I was pitching for the biggest rebranding project we’d ever been involved in.

Three major professional services partnerships were merging to form a worldwide colossus that could compete at the Accenture, IBM or Deloitte level. They wanted a snappy brand and identity that would open global doors.

It was us versus branding companies from the UK and the US. The client arranged the pitch presentations in Hong Kong at their global partners meeting.

Andrew, design guy, and I, words guy, had prepared a majestic strategic presentation, full of nice ideas and solid credentials. We flew to Hong Kong early and rehearsed it in our hotel room, firing the trickiest questions we could think of at each other to make sure we had a watertight response.

Now Andrew is a Scouser, born in Liverpool, with an accent as thick as a pint of warm-ish ale. We step up in front of the six people on the committee, with two English guys running the proceedings. Andrew says about three words, and the English guys say, in the same accent as him:

“Scouser, huh?”

“Yep.”

Pause.

“Are you red, or are you blue?”

Time froze. I literally had no idea what they were talking about. So much effort getting to this point, so much at stake. Yet it was clear that we stood on the precipice of a 50/50 roulette roll. Get it wrong, and trapdoors would open and send us sliding into the shark tank below.

Andrew looked at them like it was the stupidest question in the world.

“Red.”

Pause.

“Good answer lad.”

We do the pitch. As we walk out I ask him: WTF was that about? For those like me who know nowt of football, red is the Liverpool team. Blue is Everton, also from Liverpool. They’re separated only by a small area of parkland. They hate each other with the built-up intensity of two groups of people who are absolutely the same.

The thing I liked about it was that Andrew didn’t give a damn about pleasing these people at this point. He would have rather lost the project than say he was blue, because he was red down to his individual DNA strands. We won the contract, and not totally because of tribal football allegiances.

The great thing about it was that Andrew came across as real. He wasn’t thinking “what would you like me to be?” That shows strength, and people like that.

A lot of people doing pitches and presentations come across as absolute corporate drones, because they’re trying to suppress their own instincts and second-guess the audience. It’s the business equivalent of saying you love both cats and dogs. No you don’t.

The best, and most successful, ideas guy this industry ever produced, David Grant, never left you in any doubt what he thought. Sure, it made a few people run in fear, and some wrote letters of complaint. David didn’t allow himself to be limited by those people, and he became a global brand himself. RIP mate.