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Tampa pitchman off to Cannes to prove he's 'greatest' salesman

Call me thick as a brick, but Tampa's Eric Polins stands on the edge of greatness. He's six days away from competing in Cannes, France, for "World's Greatest Salesperson," having out pitched nearly 230 global competitors for a finalist shot at the title offered up by giant New York advertising icon OgilvyOne Worldwide.

And to what does Polins owe his success thus far? Selling a lowly red brick. More on that in a moment.

Salesmanship gets a bad rap. Without it, commerce stalls. The economy grinds to a halt. Capitalism collapses. Truly great salesmanship, mastering the art of persuasion, is a dwindling art. That's why OgilvyOne created this contest. It hopes Monday's winner, chosen instantly by a text-messaging theater full of marketing execs, will help the ad firm redefine the skills of selling in the 21st century.

Polins, the 41-year-old co-founder and managing partner of Tampa marketing consultants HCP Associates, learned about the "Search for the World's Greatest Salesperson" contest, a YouTube video competition, while browsing Facebook.

"If you think you have what it takes to sell a common, ordinary brick, then OgilvyOne Worldwide has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you," the contest promised. In addition to an all-expenses trip for three finalists to compete in Cannes at the world's biggest advertising convention, the winner gets a three-month fellowship with OgilvyOne "to rearticulate" sales lessons espoused by David Ogilvy.

Ogilvy is considered the "father of advertising" and was a founder of the famous 20th century advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather. That has now become OgilvyOne, which says it is on a mission "to reinvigorate the noble art of salesmanship."

Talk about Mission Impossible. How do you sell a plain red brick in a two-minute YouTube video with greater passion and cleverness than 229 global competitors? Polins decided to sell the brick for its intangible asset: as a globally available and affordable good luck charm. In the video, he compares his red brick to, among other outdated good luck charms, a rabbit's foot ("too morbid"), a "knock on wood" gesture ("is anything made of wood any more?") and a four-leaf clover ("I live in the city," he says).

It's a smooth, tongue-in-cheek delivery by Polins, who also writes, produces and acts in films on the side (he sits on the board of the Gasparilla International Film Festival). The Penn State broadcast and journalism graduate says he left TV news because he was too nervous in front of a camera. Now he's used to it, as the YouTube brick pitch attests, and as Polins deadpans: "I do not throw up any more before going on camera."

The competition is tough. The Canadian finalist pitches the brick in his video as not just a building block but "representing a dream" of great things. And the Japanese finalist reinvents the brick (with chrome handles) as a must-have purse that works better against muggers than Mace.

If Polins wins in Cannes, he'll use his OgilvyOne fellowship to find ways to bridge the big ad gap between how basic and high-end goods are sold. And somewhere along the line, he'll probably add "World's Greatest Salesperson" to his resume.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Fast facts

So, are you sold?

The winning video submissions by Polins and two other finalists can be viewed at links.tampabay.com.

Tampa pitchman off to Cannes to prove he's 'greatest' salesman 06/14/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 10:25am]
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