Organizational narrative: the Pixar pitch


In To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink makes the case that selling is a social activity, not just a commercial one. All of us, every day, try to motivate others to part with resources for one reason or another. We might be trying to land a new customer at work, or recruit volunteers for a community activity, or convince a friend to see the movie we want to see.

Public and social sector marketers are no different. Sure, there are clients to pitch to and RFPs to answer, but there are also volunteers to recruit, donors to convince, bosses to win over, and colleagues to motivate.

Pink lists several types of pitches, but one that I gravitated to is the “Pixar” pitch. Made popular by Emma Coats, a former Pixar story artist, on her Twitter feed, the pitch builds like a story:

  • Once upon a time, …..
  • Every day, ….
  • Then, one day, …
  • Because of that, …
  • Because of that, …
  • Until finally,…

(The Pixar pitch is actually #4 on Coats’ 22 Pixar rules of storytelling.)

Go ahead, try it!

Here’s an example. The other day I heard a story on NPR about Doctors Without Borders that contained the kernel of a Pixar pitch:

  • Once upon a time, medical charity work was focused on prevention, not treatment.
  • Every day, people around the world suffered from acute medical problems for which treatment was not available or for which they could not pay, often because of circumstances out of their control such as wars and natural disasters.
  • Then, one day, a group of doctors in France decided to start treating those suffering from wars and natural disasters.
  • Because of that, at first some people called them “Medical Cowboys,” swooping in to provide short-term help and create unfulfillable expectations.
  • Because of that, Doctors Without Borders fought on to help those in critical need.
  • Until finally, Doctors Without Borders won the Nobel Peace Prize and today works around the world helping heal those in need.

You can use a Pixar pitch to introduce your organization, paint the future of a project you want funded, persuade volunteers and donors to give or give more.

Pink tells one example of college students working the alumni donation phone bank for their school. In an experiment, one group was given short stories to read before their shifts about how alumni of the college had benefited from receiving scholarships, and the work those alumni went on to do. Those stories could have looked a lot like Pixar pitches.

At the end of the experiment, phone bank workers who read the stories raised twice as much money as those who had not read the stories. That’s a great return on investment for reading a few minutes before hitting the phones.

What could Pixar pitches do for you?

(To Sell is Human and other books mentioned in this blog are available in the bookstore.)

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