Four Ingredients of a Strong Pitch: Lessons from the World of Plant-Based Foods

I recently joined our clients at Motif FoodWorks to judge presentations by MBA candidates from the Kelly School of Business at the University of Indiana who are focused on the alternative protein market. Motif is an ingredients-maker and molecular science company making the growing segment of plant-based foods — like veggie burgers and dairy-free cheeses — better tasting, more versatile and more nutritious. The students presented integrated marketing plans aimed at increasing consumption of plant-based foods as well as deepening consumer acceptance of synthetic biology, one of the vital scientific processes Motif uses to develop its ingredients. 

Having worked in PR for more than 10 years, I’m not often on the receiving end of a pitch, so it was enlightening to have the tables turned to see what worked and what didn’t. Our deliberation was short and the decision unanimous. Many of the teams did well but the winners had four components that lifted them right to the top. I’ll certainly remember this next time I pitch media or a new client. Here are the four lessons I took away.

1. Root Ideas in Research 

Sometimes when you ask questions, you get an answer you don’t want. In this case, the teams that conducted primary research uncovered that many of the same consumers that say they are open to companies using synthetic biology to make animal-free food recoil when they hear the word GMO — a confusing sentiment that highlights the human tendency to value emotion over fact. 

While revealing this type of data made their road toward building a consumer perception program more complicated, the teams that rooted their programs in research came up with more compelling campaigns and even if the ideas were not perfect, being able to link back to the “why” behind them garnered major points. 

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Shake Things Up 

The winning team told us their professor shook his head when they presented their idea to connect promoting a flexitarian diet to the “distracted boyfriend meme,” equating the girlfriend to animal products and the eye candy to plant-based foods. They stuck with it despite warnings it might not go over well, and the risk was worth the reward. When the team presented taglines like Make beef your side piece” and  “Don’t be afraid to go both ways,” the room erupted in laughter. The ideas were funny but did more than make us laugh — they triangulated Motif’s mission, its target customer, and a pop-culture reference quite perfectly. The campaign illustrated that showing personality and having fun are not frivolous; they can be strategic in driving towards business goals and making integrated marketing ideas pop. 

3. Identify and Address Risks Early  

Only one team was bold enough to point out the major risks and challenges the company will face when it enters the market. It takes guts to stand in front of a company and show them where they are likely to fail. That team won. They understood that for a startup determined to lead in a crowded market, being aware of obstacles is better than having your head in the sand. 

4. Connect the Dots

At the end of the day, the winning team told us a great story. It didn’t feel like they were flipping through a bunch of tactics, they wove a clear story arc with a beginning, middle and end. We saw how the research led to a cohesive set of ideas, which led us to navigate some watch-outs, and then back to a successful campaign. They left our judging panel feeling satisfied and with few questions to ask because they had answered them already. In public relations and integrated marketing, we often call ourselves storytellers; this was a good reminder that a good story can take many forms and just how effective one can be.