Rationalizing: It’s Not Just for Donuts Anymore

We usually think of rationalizing as a bad thing—why I bought the expensive shoes, stayed up late, or ate the donut.

But in the case of medical storytelling, it’s not only good, it can be your secret weapon. Whether you’re an advertising professional pitching ideas to your client, a brand director pitching a marketing plan to leadership, or a medical director pitching an educational strategy to KOL speakers, you need a “how we got there” document to set up the work—a rationale.

For a breathtaking in-person rationale, watch Don Draper pitching Kodak Carousel on Mad Men.

In the 1960s, pitching in person was the only way it could be done. Today, while in-person presenting is still preferred, you often have to rely on asynchronous pitching. This means you hit “Send” and your client reads your pitch at another time. Even if you’re fortunate enough to share your work in person or via conference call or Web meeting, it’s guaranteed your pitch will be shared and likely discussed electronically. You can see why a written rationale is critical.

A rationale is simply a brief write-up that explains the reasons/strategy behind whatever you designed, wrote, developed, or researched. Chicago Ad Woman of the Year and Executive Creative Director Maureen Moore had a handwritten top ten list on her door. Numbers four and nine are all about the purpose of a rationale:

  • # 4: “Don’t focus on what you want to say. Discover what people need to hear.”
  • #9: “Think about what’s already in people’s heads.”

Another way to say that is don’t just jump in cold. Bring people along with the thinking that led to your solution before you present that solution. And relate your work to something important to them. For example, their marketing objectives.

Long before a word of copy is written, a pixel of color is applied, or a column of budget numbers is added, a need arose for the solution you’ve developed. Those are your client’s or leadership’s objectives. This is what they want to achieve. In marketing departments and advertising agencies everywhere, those objectives are painstakingly developed and recorded in the creative brief.

For entertaining and helpful tips on preparing creative briefs, go here, here, and here.

Drop Your Anchor

The creative brief is the anchor of your medical story—the blueprint, the holy grail that the client and agency agree on together. When writing your rationale, refer to the creative brief. Show how your ideas achieve the objectives, resonate with the healthcare provider audience, and trigger the desired call to action—whether it’s prescribing a medication or understanding a complex disease state. By anchoring your work to what your client wants and needs, they will see that you “get” their goals and challenges—that you “think about what’s already in people’s heads.”

To wrap it up, here’s a rationale for always including a written rationale with your presentations:

  • You’ve spent hours and days researching, writing, and fine-tuning a solution for your client or leadership—your target audience
  • Your audience is distracted and busy with their own tasks, probably up to the minute your presentation begins (or they open your e-mail)
  • A rationale allows you to walk them through your thinking and warm them up to your solution
  • You will help them arrive at the same place you did—a happy destination

Go ahead, rationalize. Then reward yourself with a donut.