How to plan the perfect pitch
Pitching yourself or your idea is a daunting thing. You have to condense your brilliant idea down to a 30-second, bite-sized chunk that will convince the right person to invest in you.
This article first appeared in Artshub on 9 October 2017.
You could be pitching a potential art project that needs seed money to get off the ground, or the pitch could be about spruiking your talents. Want to convince an agent to sign you? Or perhaps you have your novel ready for a publisher?
If it all sounds too complex (and slightly anxiety-inducing) then try some pitch tips we’ve gleaned from experts in the sector.
A good pitch should contain all the best ingredients to make an impactful statement, so make sure you put the best features of your idea to the fore. Talk about the best bits first.
Sarah McKenzie, Director of Hindsight Literary Agency, said: ‘Whether it’s a verbal pitch or in writing, a good pitch is all about the hook. I like pitches that are short and catchy – something that convinces me that this project matters in some way and that you are the best person to be writing it.’
LET YOUR ART DO THE TALKING
Steven Richardson, Creative Partnerships Australia State Manager for Victoria and Tasmania advised: ‘Often, the best advocate for your work is your work. Let your art do the talking. Make your fundraising experiential, creating opportunities for potential supporters to understand and to experience your work and your world. This can be powerful and a donor or investor who falls in love with your work will be more inclined to support you now and in the future.’
KEEP IT CONCISE
You need to know what you are pitching. A vague idea won’t suffice – tangible and well thought-out examples of the concepts are needed. Pick up a pen and write your idea down in 50 words or less.
Now, step away from your words and allow your ideas to percolate. When you come back to your written pitch, do your words make sense? Could your words be edited down to describe your idea more succinctly?
McKenzie said: ‘[The pitch] should be concise; give me a flavour of the tone or voice of the manuscript, and avoid clichés and rhetorical questions.’
Richardson added, ‘Be concise – don’t get lost in too much detail in the initial stages. Remember, you are trying to light a fire in the imagination.’
THE THREE WHYS
The fundamentals of a pitch will consists of who you are, what your idea is and what the person you’re pitching to can do for you. If you are a writer pitching to a publication, Founding Editor of Writer’s Edit Helen Scheuerer advised starting with ‘A catchy headline, one that ideally creates a curiosity gap and matches the style of the publication you’re targeting.’
Scheuerer emphasised including ‘a succinct summary of what your article will cover with a clear angle,’ and she told us to never forget the golden rule of three: ‘The “3 Whys” – why this story and publication, why now and why you?’
ARE YOU PITCHING TO THE RIGHT PERSON?
Richardson said: ‘At best a pitch can introduce your work in a compelling way and not scare off potential supporters. But it should be treated as a first step to more committed or sustained support, which is the goal.
‘Another way to look at it is to ask yourself the question, if a supporter commits based only on a pitch, how deep is their commitment and how likely is it to grow and last? You want the right people to support your project, not just anyone.’
TALK THE TALK
Another good tip from Richardson is to, ‘Use their language – one technique to demonstrate empathy and an understanding of your potential supporters’ positions is to use key phrases or words they use themselves.’
Which also means you will need to think like an investor.
‘Talk about effect rather than output – focus on the biggest effect that your work project or organisation might have in the world. The metrics of the project can come later,’ he said.
IF IT’S AN EMAIL PITCH
Scheuerer said: ‘Always read the publication you’re pitching to, before you pitch. Search for house style guidelines or guest post guidelines and follow them when pitching! Tailor every pitch to the specific publication – don’t email the same pitch en masse.’
SELL, SELL AND SELL SOME MORE
McKenzie said: ‘Firstly, a pitch needs to sell the concept. For fiction, this means you introduce the main characters and the core conflict they face in a compelling way – leave me wanting to read more. For nonfiction, it’s a bit different and you need to capture the real essence of the idea and present it as more of a business case – demonstrate that there is a market and explain why will people want to buy your book/how they will benefit.
‘Sell yourself as an author. For fiction, I look for writers who are clearly committed to writing as a career path. Include information about any previous publications, awards you may have received, and whether you have an online author platform. For nonfiction, you want to convince an agent or publisher that you have credibility within the field about which you propose to write.
‘You should sell yourself as an authority on the chosen topic, indicate whether you have an online following, or if you have previous publications. Basically, you want to answer the question: why you and not somebody else,’ she said.
LEAVE IT OUT!
‘Leave out the declarations about how gifted you are and how much your friends and family “love” your writing … don’t go over the top to prove how “clever” your writing style is. Don’t tell me I’ll live to regret passing up the opportunity to work with you. And, understand that publishing is a subjective business and don’t ever, ever try to argue with a negative judgement,’ said McKenzie.
DON’T BE BORING
Richardson said: ‘Death by support material is common. The project sounds amazing, it’s ticking a lot of boxes but the material supporting the project – your promotional copy, your fundraising campaign page, brochures, photos – don’t measure up. Better to leave it to the imagination of potential supporters than provide something mediocre.’
FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT
It all begins with a bit of confidence – in yourself and your work. If you have put the effort and long hours into your idea or project, then let your passion for the project shine through. If you’re not feeling confident break the tension with a witty joke. McKenzie suggested: ‘Use humour, if possible and where relevant. In the context of a pitch, it rarely fails.’
Let your own achievements motivate you – if your nerves fail you let your knowledge of your project take control. If it’s a verbal pitch be mindful of your body language; are you coming across as aggressive due to nerves? Take a step back and breathe.
Richardson said you can lighten the mood by making the pitch about the investor: ‘Make it their idea – when potential donors or investors feel like they have ownership of an idea (i.e. to support you) you’re half way there.’
BUT BE AUTHENTIC
Richardson said: ‘People give to people. Present yourself as the most authentic version of yourself that you can be. Be vulnerable and honest about what you are doing and seek to create great human connection. Potential supporters want to know who they’re supporting as much as what they are supporting, so put yourself and your people into the case for support as much as you can.
DON’T BE DESPERATE
Richardson cautioned: ‘ There are few things more unattractive than a mendicant arts fundraiser. Be passionate but paint the bluest sky version of what you are trying to achieve. Talk about your work and what it will achieve, not what will happen to you or your work if your project doesn’t get up.’
SAY NO TO EMOTIONAL BLACKMAIL
‘Making someone feel like they “should” support your project might have some short-term benefit but people who give because they feel guilty or obligated usually only give once,’ Richardson said.
YOUR PITCH IS A SCRIPT
Don’t be afraid to rehearse your pitch, even to a stranger at an industry get-together. Treat your pitch like a well-honed script, and edit and re-write as your idea strengthens and your confidence grows.
A PITCH IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
Richardson said that raising money in the arts takes time, and pitching is just the beginning. He said, ‘Donors or funders rarely make a decision to give on a pitch alone. The idea that a 30-second pitch or even a 20-minute presentation will convince donors or investors to invest in or donate to your work is fairly fanciful.
‘Raising money for the arts takes time. Time for supporters to experience and understand the work, and time for artists and arts organisation to build empathy and trust with their supporters. The deeper the engagement and the greater emotional connection a potential supporter has to an artists’ work, the more likely they are to donate. This doesn’t mean a short, concise articulation of your practice, program or work (a pitch) is not an incredibly helpful thing to have. It means that this is but one part of your fundraising tool bag and can only ever be an introduction.’
For more information, read Creative Partnerships Australia’s guide to how to develop a case for support.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrea Simpson is an ArtsHub staff writer.