How to Pitch a Creative Idea
Creative industries have constantly been governed by two strong forces that — despite sharing the same dreams for the future of the artistic sector — constantly seem to be challenging each other’s objectives and work styles. The creative versus the account in advertising, the manager versus the artist in music or fine arts and the producer versus the director in film. Although fighting for the same objectives, they seem to follow different paths towards fame and fortune. However, in an era of entrepreneurialism and DIY where person-to-person is slowly replacing B2B, creative ideas quite often have to be presented to potential clients by the creatives themselves.
The move from the artistic process to the selling of a “product” that could potentially become a valuable addition to any portfolio is not as easy as it may seem. Apart from the obvious passion and dedication that each creator has towards his creation, there is a long set of other factors that need to be taken into account to ensure the work stands out from the crowd and matches the client’s demands perfectly.
I recently considered the challenges graphic designers have to face when they are both the creative and the managerial departments of their business. Discussing with Keith White — founder and creative director of Tourist, a London-based design and branding agency— we thought about creating a short list with the steps that should usually be followed when pitching a creative idea.
There should always be a brief! Even if the client hasn’t supplied one, it is always good to get the beginnings of a project down on paper. A brief will define what the client wants to achieve and what the creative should be aiming for. If the client hasn’t written a brief, write it yourself and feed it back. This gets the project off on the right foot and encourages a dialogue between you and the client. Also, don’t be afraid to challenge a brief and ask any questions you might have. This not only helps clarify both parties’ demands and objectives, but also ensures a balanced and open process.
Creative Iterative Process
The creative process is hard to define and there really isn’t one formula to this. The overriding thing Keith White does when he gets a brief is to read it over and over and — even midway through a project — keep referring to it. It sounds simple, but it really helps you focus on the requirements of the job. Sometimes what you don’t necessarily ‘see’ to begin with, you might pick up after re-reading it a few times. It could also trigger new ideas and act as a source of inspiration.
White’s agency, Tourist, typically works through these these five phases:
- Discovery and Insight phase in which they collect material by researching a brand/project and crucially identify what the outcomes are for both the client and its audience.
- Strategy, Ideas and Planning means converting your research into ideas. How relevant are they? Can they be realised? Is there a budget?
- Third phase is the creative Visualisation and Design phase. It is during this time that the idea is brought to life — even if it is a schematic representation of the final piece of work. At Tourist, ideas are put in front of as many people as possible in the studio. Then, the work will continually be critiqued and the concepts will be pushed until we are confident we have a strong selection of ideas for presentation. It is also important that during this phase the client is aware and enthusiastic about where the project is going.
- The next phase is Project Completion. The final phase is as important as the first: You must measure your results and show the client ROI, learn from them and gather information for future activity.
What’s the Big Idea?
Of course it is great to have an idea to hang everything on, but it can be subtle too. Creative is a matter of relevance, depending on the client and the brief. Sometimes the idea can be in the technique — the way something is folded, printed or produced. Technology can shape a creative solution, too. An idea can be as simple as a clever piece of text or creating a distinct tone of voice for a brand. For White, if a building, product or service isn’t very good, no amount of good design or conceptual thinking can ever dress it up perfectly.
The Target Audience
The audience plays a crucial part in the creative and pitching process. The audience or end-user has to be considered all the way through a project if an idea is to work. It is not good enough for a product, service or building to engage with its target audience. A new building or any striking piece of architecture will only work and do itself justice if an architect has considered how people intend to use it and move around it. It is exactly the same when designing a website, brochure or album sleeve.
Depending on the meeting and the numbers from the client side, two to five people should be present during a pitch. Ideally, it should be a selection of people who complement each other. At Tourist, the creative director can talk about ideas and the company’s folio, and a project manager can discuss potential challenges of a job or areas that might need careful consideration or planning. It is all down to experience. If the project is digital or web-based, then a technical consultant will be present. Sometimes, even partner agencies or organizations that have specialist skills such as data analysis, A/B split and multivariate testing for websites are invited to support the ideas.
They should be done as often as required. It also helps to have written down a list of keywords that prompt you to talk about the most important aspects of your proposal. After a few presentations you will probably create sentence patterns and strings of words that best articulate your work.
I once heard someone say that whenever you talk about your work you should remove the personal from the equation. White is not entirely sure this is right. A bit of personality is always good — especially if you have an enthusiasm for your work. However, there is a balance. A measured style might make the client keener to accept your concepts and advice.
Engaging the Audience During the Presentation
Sometimes it is good to just listen and allow the client to speak. White really enjoys pitches and presentations that end up turning into creative discussions — or two-way conversations. You want to stimulate and get a reaction. Once the ice has been broken, the atmosphere can become more relaxed and informal. The Tourist team has had many meetings that started out as pitches or presentations, but ended up turning into a workshop. These are the ones they enjoy the most. They can be extremely productive and the client always gets more out of them.
Rationality vs. Emotion
I think it would be wrong to rule one over the other — White thinks enthusiasm will always put you in a great position to win a project. As long as it’s relevant and genuine, the client will feed off it.
Asking the client for a timescale and for some feedback on the meeting is a good way to wrap up a presentation. Also tease out when you’re likely to hear back on whether or not you’ve got the job. Of course winning a pitch is great, but even if you’ve just missed out on the work, constructive feedback is always welcome and will help you incredibly in the future.
Recently there’s been a lot written about pitching and the merits of buying and commissioning design. Most of what I read argues the process is not only bad for clients and bad for business, but bad practice, too. But that’s another discussion, and one we should have soon.
John Cofie is the Founder and Consultant at Chesamel Communications, a London-based international B2P marketing advisory for premium brands and agencies. The consultancy also works with luxury, technology and financial services brands on corporate and marketing strategy, digital marketing, brand partnerships and public relations counsel. A postgraduate degree holder in commercial law and journalism, Cofie combines this background with more than 15 years' experience in building service brands through engaging content and a multi-channel approach to marketing communications. He is the Editor of Chesamel Communication’s Sybarite, a lifestyle blog read by professional services and luxury industry professionals.