Agencies try to corral the tyranny of PowerPoint

PowerPoints are a way of life inside agencies — they’re used to sell creative during pitches, land jobs or even sketch out an idea to your boss. (They’re so prolific that there’s an ad agency version of Yiddish proverbs by one blogger that includes, “With each PowerPoint that you sit through, may your nose grow another hair.”)

There is an “addiction to decks,” said Erin Dwyer, senior vp of global e-commerce and social at Haven Beauty and a former agency-side employee, who admits she sometimes even “thinks in PowerPoint.”

Dwyer said that as a client, however, even when she just wants some ideas from her agencies, she gets a big PowerPoint deck in return.

“We are still addicted to PowerPoint internally, which takes up resources and time,” she said. “The consumer is never going to see the PowerPoint, so if it takes a lot of setup or a big presentation, the idea is likely not going to work in a social, mobile and digital world anyways.”

Academia agrees. Edward Tufte, a Yale professor of information design, in 2003 wrote a scathing critique of PowerPoint, charging that it degraded the quality of all communication and bored audiences to tears. He even argued that PowerPoint was in part responsible for the Columbia shuttle disaster — crucial information that could have averted the disaster was buried in a PowerPoint slide with 10 bullet points.

Self-proclaimed “slideware junkie” David Berkowitz, CMO at MRY, said it’s such a way of life for him that he creates slideshows, hosted on SlideShare, even for things he won’t be presenting. (“The top 25 quotes from the 2015 Cannes Lions” is one.)

But his issue isn’t with all PowerPoint: just “terrible” ones. “I believe that is a scourge that must be done away with,” he said. “Namely, with those presentations designed to be delivered in person as opposed to read via email.” He gets pretty bad pitches sometimes, he says, and the worst ones are stored in his “internal presentation tracking spreadsheet.”

One way to cut that bad habit down is to limit meetings at the agency. “Meetings are the chief source of the PowerPoint tyranny, so by cutting back on meetings, you cut back on slides,” he said.

Nobody seems quite sure how the tyranny of PowerPoint materialized. Berkowitz calls it a “chicken or egg” thing. “Did people who were huge fans of PowerPoint all start joining agencies and infecting them with decks, or did agencies start imposing decks on everyone and create an army of millions of people obsessed with PowerPoint?” Berkowitz himself made a deck long before he even got his first agency job, so it might not be just agencies.

David Berkowitz' first-ever deck
David Berkowitz’ first-ever deck


Millennials entering the workforce might have something to do with it. PowerPoints are now de rigeur in schools — instead of written book reports, it’s presentations. So millennials who grew up PowerPointing just might be more comfortable with the medium, which adds to the sprawl. Isabelle Gauvry, director of PR at Omnicom Media Group, said that there is a dependence on PowerPoint as a narrative structure that holds even as these people get into the workforce. (But she admits it’s not just millennials: Gauvry herself used slides for her interview at OMG to keep her resume brief and focused, but also impressive.)

And there’s just the egotistical part of it: Even crappy creative ideas can look good dressed up in a flashy presentation.

Sean Reynolds, global creative director at Iris, might be the only one, but said he “actually likes PowerPoint.” Even though, he admits, like any tool, it can be abused. “For me, PowerPoint isn’t the problem,” he said. “It’s often about laziness and a lack of time that puts you into a situation where you no longer have a choice on how you present. Agencies have an active choice on how to communicate an idea and how best to sell it, and in many instances PowerPoint can do exactly that. Everyone just needs to remember it should never be about the medium, it should always be about the message.”

Whatever it is, it befuddles even entrants new to agency life. “I remember this one silly thing,” said Aranta Urruchua, account executive at Y&R. “When I was interning, everyone uses the word ‘deck’ for PowerPoint presentation, and I was sitting there wondering what a ‘deck’ was.”

Homepage image via Shutterstock

More in Marketing

Nike eyes marketing moment at the Olympics, as industry execs sound off on the brand’s challenges

The Olympic moment comes at a time that is all too critical for a brand like Nike, which some industry experts say is pressured to improve its standing among consumers after seeing a dip in sales as of late.

GoDaddy shifts gears: CMO Fara Howard talks about-face from provocative Super Bowl ads to focus on small businesses

GoDaddy is moving away from its quintessential sports-related spots to focus on small businesses and entrepreneurs, according to CMO Fara Howard.


Marketing Briefing: How the Democratic presidential election upheaval will impact the political ad market

While the communication strategy for the Democrats already included robust digital and social media placements that have become table stakes, those efforts will likely only increase in the weeks to come.