GET THE INFO YOU NEED TO WIN THE JOB AFTER MAKING THE EFFORT
We have all been in the frustrating position of spending days working hard on a concept, writing a treatment, designing a storyboard, or all of these – for free, only to come away from the pitch meeting with nothing except that sinking feeling that you’ve wasted your time and efforts. In fact, the idea of working speculatively, or pitching without charging a fee, is not working for free – it’s actually working at a loss. You still have to keep yourself fed, pay your rent, bills and any other office costs while you were working on the pitch. What about all the materials you used? Storyboard artist who get the job done no matter how crazy the deadline.
Maybe it was only some board, glue and paper, but running a printer isn’t cheap either, cartridges, glossy paper, even scalpel blades and light bulbs, it all adds up.
This is written to ensure you give yourself the best chance of winning the project you are pitching on, to keep the time and resources wastage down to a minimum and to put yourselves in the best position for future work when it materialises. Even if you aren’t successful on the pitch, this information will at least help you make the right impression, so that the client remembers you for next time.
Receiving the initial Brief
The phone rings, or an email appears with a vague description about a new series being commissioned, asking whether you would like to pitch for the titles and graphics package. There is no information about budget, duration, timescale or what the production company wants. Sound familiar? It seems to be common practice that motion graphics and design studios often need to do the thinking for the client when it comes to a brief, and not just the designing aspects, when it comes to the opening titles – the first impression the TV programme, Broadcast documentary or corporate film wants to put across to the viewer. This can often be a blessing rather than a hindrance, as it allows the designer to be more creative and expansive in their thinking, but it is often the case when a client really does actually want something quite specific, it’s just that they haven’t told you what it is. The art is to extract this information from their heads without them feeling interrogated. Often, it is helpful to suggest something else you have seen as a reference, or ask them to think of something they like, or something that has triggered their thought process to this point.
The first thing to do when receiving the opportunity to pitch is decide whether you really want to do the job. Assuming you do, the next stage is to ask the basic questions that will help you understand what you are being asked to do, and how to get the most from the opportunity, with a mind to winning the pitch.
Read What You Need to Know from a Client for more helpful information.
Another vital thing to do right at the outset is get some names. Start with the person who contacted you and find out their position in the client hierarchy. Often, the person who called or emailed you won’t be involved in the pitch itself or the decision making process, they are most likely a Production Manager or Assistant who has been given the task of doing the phone calling and handling the budgetary aspects of the project, and they very rarely know much more about the graphics side of the project than they tell you at the outset. Find out who the Producer and Director is, who the decision maker is and even the commissioning editor and the channel or company they work for. You may be able to speak to the Director or Producer and get some extra clues or information about the project to help your brainstorming, you may also, with a little research, be able to get a good idea of what they have worked on before and see if there is a certain style, medium or format they appear to favour or avoid. This is especially true when it comes to deciding on using animation or not, particularly the more traditional styles of animation.
Who Else is Pitching?
While you are asking all the key questions up front, it is always useful, intriguing, and enlightening, to find out who else is pitching for the same business. Sometimes the client will be illusive when it comes to stating names or numbers, but other times they are happy to share the list of other companies you are in competition with. This information is useful in different ways, firstly knowing how your chances stack up, who else is in their thoughts, and the size of the studios involved. Sometimes the bigger studios will only put their junior staff on the smaller budget projects, giving the smaller studios a better chance of winning, if the effort is put in. Don’t give up just because one of the big hitters is involved, more likely than not they won’t put the same level of effort into their pitch. You may also have a friend working in a competitors studio, talking with them may allow you to avoid going for a similar idea.
When it comes to conceiving the actual idea that you are going to pitch there are no hard and fast rules. It’s a matter of whatever works best for you, but having a structured brainstorming session has a few advantages over a naturally developing concept. Firstly, it puts all the people involved in the project in the same space. Here you can see that you have the right team for the project and bounce your ideas around, or if working alone it gives you a chunk of time to work with and focus on. Sometimes, forcing ourselves to work within confines of time makes for a more productive result, how many times have you been playing around with an idea for so long that you hadn’t left enough time to put the storyboards together and end up staying awake all night to get them done and presented correctly. You succeed, but how much better would the pitch have been if you weren’t so tired, and you had structured your design and brainstorming time better?
The storyboard is perhaps the most valuable and important tangible element of the pitch, and the one item that the client will want to keep and refer back to at a later date. With this in mind it needs to be concise and easy to follow, fit easily on one piece of A2 board (maximum size) and not look too cramped. Layout and presentation is key, after all, you are a designer, so it is well worth making the storyboard a beautifully presented piece that your client will WANT to keep looking at.
It is always a good idea to put your studio branding somewhere on the board, usually the bottom right hand corner, and it may be worth considering putting your clients branding on there too, just to make them feel loved and to see how their brand sits with the programme or film they are making.
Animation or Video Test or Reference Material
It may also be appropriate to provide a video presentation, either to show an animation test you have made to illustrate more precisely the idea or concept you are pitching, or a similar style you wish to emulate as a reference. Usually the pitching process will take place at the clients offices, therefore it is important to prepare properly and ensure that you have everything you need to make the presentation, and not rely on the client supplying a screen or projector. A laptop is the most common way to present video, perhaps connected to a larger screen in the room, but if you do use a laptop, ensure that it is booted and fully powered up and ready to go before starting the pitch, and that the video files and media player are easy to access, allowing you to make a seamless transition from spoken presentation to video presentation without any of those ‘hang on the laptop has gone to sleep’ moments. One other thing to consider, it may be an idea to make a series of CD or DVD disks or similar data units, containing the video material as well as all the other assets – storyboard, treatment and technical breakdown, to give to your clients at the end of the pitch. The disks act as another branding opportunity for your studio, can include your showreel and any other material you want the client to have, to give you the best chances of success, and to plant you and your company firmly into their memory. Besides, having everything in one small place, and making things easy for a client can only be a good thing.
Writing a treatment is a healthy and concise way of explaining your ideas, and often makes it easier to explain your idea verbally once you have taken the time to put it on paper first. It also allows the client to fully understand the images you are presenting on the storyboard. A treatment should contain every aspect of the piece, including style, pace and technique. It should also explain in detail how you aim to make the project with a full but concise and easy to understand technical breakdown.
It is also advisable to include something about music and audio sound design where it relates to your idea, atmosphere and style. Although you may print multiple copies of the treatment and hand them out at the start of the pitch, the likely hood is that they won’t be read, it’s just good to have hard copies that they can refer to later that relates directly to what you were talking about in your pitch presentation. Again, it’s another branding opportunity sitting on their desk.
The Pitch Itself
Decide early on who will attend the pitch on your companies behalf. Are you going alone or are you taking another Designer and a Producer perhaps? Be careful not to go in too heavy handed, it is always advisable to have less people presenting than there are people being presented to. Clients don’t like to feel outnumbered or pressured in any way. Also, it is well worth a quick dry run before hand, so everyone knows who is presenting what and when. You need to give an aura of relaxed professionalism where everyone is working as one, towards the same goal – which is of course, the very best job that the client can get for their money.
When it comes to explaining your ideas, and how you intend to create them, try and use language that the client will fully understand, after all they aren’t all used to the same jargon that creative’s use day to day. Be clear, informative and creative in your words, but make it simple to grasp. It’s blatantly obvious, but if the client doesn’t fully understand your idea, then you aren’t going to get the job. Be enthusiastic, knowledgable and passionate, but not overly excitable.
It may be mostly irrelevant, but also consider the impression you are making as an individual by what you are wearing. Sometimes a certain type of client may be less impressed with you if you are very scruffy, it all depends what sacrifices you are prepared to make to ensure you win the project, sometimes washing your hair and having a shave can make the difference….! It should be all about the work, but it’s not always that simple and personalities are important, so try and get on with everyone you meet, be firm in your views that relate to your designs but flexible with other aspects of the project and people involved. At the end of your presentation, try to answer as clearly as possible any questions that arose or were asked when you finished your spiel. Be confident with your answers and don’t be pressured for more and more extras by the client. Being too much of a ‘yes’ man/woman may have just blown the budget before you start the job!
Schedule and Time allocation, Budgets and Costs
If you take a graphics or post Producer with you, or you are a Producer, it is most likely that you will be handling this aspect of the project and will want to talk briefly at the end of the creative presentation about time and money. Again, be flexible to a point here and ensure that you have enough time to create what you are proposing within the clients changing brief. Key approval points are always a good idea so everyone knows where they stand during the process and the goal posts don’t get moved too far at the end of the project. When it comes to budgets, your client may give you a ballpark figure to work to, if not you must try and be competitive. but not cheap. Very low costs give the impression of lesser quality work, and costs that are too high just scare clients away. A balanced and well broken down budget is an essential tool, and something that will be carefully scrutinised by the client Producer. It may also benefit you to make creative and technical suggestions as to where the client can stretch their budget further, either at the shoot or graphics stage. I’m sure no-one has ever heard of a client who isn’t looking to save money, and they are sure to thank you for it if you suggest it in a professional, helpful and easy manner.
After the Pitch
Hopefully you will get a call or email soon after your pitch to congratulate you on winning the project and you can begin full production, but sometimes the confirmation can be delayed reducing your production time and causing your carefully planned schedule to go out of the window before you have even started. Occasionally you may even be asked to re pitch your idea once the client has adjusted the brief, this can be frustrating but at least you know that you have made to to the next stage, usually with less competition, probably one other company. You will then need to spend even more of your unpaid time, making a new or adjusted storyboard and treatment, as well as re-thinking the schedule and costs.
It is a good idea to follow up your pitch a day or two after your meeting to ask if a decision has been reached. Don’t harass the client but a gentle nudge can work wonders, good communication is everything. Sometimes of course you can be strung along and then get told that the job went to a competitor, or worse still, you may never get told and find out in the trade magazine 2 weeks later! Whatever happens try and treat each pitch as a learning process to further master your skills in this area, and a way of building up your client network each and every time you make a good account of yourself.
Next time the pitch may be against fewer competitors, or the client may come back directly to you.
DazPix is a London based design, animation and direction studio producing motion graphics, visual effects and cgi for broadcast, advertising, music and corporate clients. We design, direct, shoot and post produce anything that moves. We take a project, develop a concept then bump it, shake it and grind it, until it pops out the other end looking shiny and new, on budget and on schedule. With 20 years experience in the highest echelons of TV and moving image, we know we can deliver whatever you need and exceed your expectations.
Check us out at http://www.dazpix.co.uk and follow the blog to ensure you get all the free articles and downloads at http://www.dazpix.co.uk/cat/blog
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