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Uncovering a hidden agenda requires a highly developed emotional intelligence, or the ability to listen to and empathize with others. The pitching team can follow a series of steps to arrive at the hidden agenda:

1. Prepare by going beyond the client’s or prospect’s brief — the statement of the problem that needs solving. The pitching team must unearth additional information that will help them better understand the client.

2. Spend time with the client and focus not on the team’s capabilities but on what the client reveals.

3. Think like a shrink. The pitching team must discern the client’s personality profile and motivation and keep the speaker’s interests front and center. Acknowledging and paraphrasing the speaker is important, along with making the speaker feel supported.

4. The practice of careful listening focuses on the speaker. The careful listener acknowledges and paraphrases the speaker and makes him or her feel accepted and supported. The more comfortable the listener feels, the more the speaker will reveal.

5. Ask the right questions. At least some of the questions should go beyond the business issue and invite the prospect to express his or her feelings.

Because the hidden agenda is usually based in a visceral emotion, it is not directly stated, and the client often cannot express it clearly. To help clients articulate the hidden agenda, the pitching team can use laddering, a psychological technique that employs a series of questions to explore a path leading to a core motive or desire.



When pitching, a person needs to connect with a client from his or her core — or the person’s essential nature — which is the most genuine part of the personality. An appeal to a person or organization will have gravitas only if it reflects something essential and true about the individual making the appeal. Identifying a core requires psychological mining, which can be done using one of four methods:

  1. The associative method uses words and images to uncover meanings that reflect the core. Two tools used in the associative method are thecore questionnaire, which employs essential questions about oneself or the organization to help define the core, and a word sort, which helps the inquirer arrive at the same place.

  2. The projective method is a psychological profile test that uses different stimuli to call up associations and emotions. This method can use photographs, for example, or celebrities, or anything else that can symbolize character or values.

  3. The footprint method combines elements of the associative and projective methods to arrive at three essential meanings that reflect the core.

  4. The profiling method involves identifying a type within a personality typology system.

By identifying their cores, individuals or organizations can easily convey how they add value and provide a compelling reason for the client to follow them.


It is important to crystallize an individual or organization’s belief system to create a following, as companies are now judged on what they believe as much as by what they sell. The credo is a statement of beliefs, and it follows from the core. A credo underlies organizational culture and dynamics; it is the thread that holds a community together. To articulate a credo, members of the pitching team can use the same methods that helped them uncover their core. For example, they may ask themselves what is important about the ways they live their lives or the ways in which they work. If the pitching team makes its credo clear and creates a shared bond with the client based on that credo, the team is sure to win the business.

Real Ambition

Real ambition may be defined as “the human desire to create something good where nothing existed before.” Such aspiration goes beyond what is good for the self and embraces what is good for the community. An individual with real ambition wishes to grow professionally and personally, and that desire must be connected to the hidden agenda in order to rally people to a cause. Real ambition has noble intentions, is a statement of clear intent, seems impossible (since it is an aspiration for a great leap), has a core that will fuel action, and is articulated in simple language. Discerning an individual’s or a company’s real ambition begins with some key questions, such as, “What was I put on earth to do?” or “How will others benefit from my (or our) special abilities?” Real ambition must be articulated in a statement of purpose, which should include the pitching team’s “noble intent” and how the team plans to transform the situation at hand.


In crafting a winning strategy, the team addresses not only a technical solution, but also connects one or more of its leverageable assets — core, credo, and real ambition — with the hidden agenda. One way to distill the winning strategy is to use the Allen Key, a tool that has six elements: the three leverageable assets (core, credo, and real ambition) and the three key elements of the prospect’s hidden agenda (wants, needs, and values). The pitching team’s real ambition is to use credo to connect with values and core to connect with needs. In the case of MasterCard, McCann’s core of a competitive culture and a winning track record connected with MasterCard’s need to score a victory over Visa.

When it is time to pitch to the client, the presentation can be thought of as a case being argued in a court of law. A pitch needs a powerful opening with a theme that reflects the hidden agenda, a well-organized presentation of “evidence,” and a compelling summation. While it may be tempting to overwhelm the audience or prospect with many arguments and ideas, it is more effective to craft one highly persuasive thesis. The narrative of evidence logically follows from the major premise or argument. This narrative should move the audience emotionally while logically presenting the facts, which have been gleaned from the extensive research the team has done on the prospect and its business problem. The summation synopsizes the facts and the argument and rouses the audience to the action the pitching team is recommending.


Storytelling is the oldest and most beloved form of communication. Therefore, it is no surprise that pitching requires telling a story built around the hidden agenda of the prospect. In the case of MasterCard, McCann’s pitch included a story about a father and son at a baseball game. The tickets, refreshments, and autographed baseball were given price tags, while the conversation between father and son was labeled “priceless.”

Any good story has archetypal elements: a hero that goes on a journey toward fulfillment or enlightenment, a villain who presents obstacles or opposing forces, a supporting cast of characters that help or hinder the hero’s journey, and a sage that offers wisdom to the hero or articulates the meaning of the story. The journey of the hero includes the quest (for the object, purpose, or meaning), a reversal of fortune (when it looks like the hero will fail) a turning point, and a denouement (a moment of epiphany or discovery). At the end, there is a moral or takeaway. For the person pitching the idea, the hero is the prospect, the story is about what the prospect is trying to attain, and the moral is the hidden agenda. The pitch must be organized around the hidden agenda and dramatically highlight elements of the journey toward that goal.

Storytelling is compelling because it reminds people what it means to be human; it connects them emotionally to others. It also embodies people’s hopes and captures their imaginations, allowing them to believe that what they desire can happen. Finally, storytelling provides drama, the best form of entertainment.

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