Thursday, February 4, 2010

Small Businesses, Creatives and Freelancers - How Much Do You Share In A Pitch?

This post is one I've been thinking about for a long time and now that some agencies are pushing to retain creative rights to their ideas throughout the process, it's doubly relevant.  I really suggest you read the article in Adage, it's clearly a growing problem. 
When you're a creative team or shop and you make your money by crafting and then executing ideas (designers, social media folks, artists, etc.) it's hard to know how much to give clients in order to show off how great you are and what to keep hidden so that you get the job. 
This is made much more difficult when there are people out there that want you to come up with ideas, pitch them on it, not hire the team, but still own the idea that you came up with for the pitch.  It's not a ton of people, but enough to make creatives a little nervous.
 I sell my ideas and analysis on how a brand should use social media and other new mediums of communication  so new clients always want to see some ideas and I don't blame them.  No one wants to simply "take your word for it" that you know what you're doing.

That said, know that it's ok to decline to provide a complete idea until you are working together.  I am not terribly comfortable coming in the door with a complete idea without having spoken fairly extensively with the client about resources, objectives, team experience, goals, and timeline.  Virtually every prospective client that I explain this to completely understands this and respects that I want to create something that might take some time to craft.  A free idea just might give you what you paid for it.... nothing.
In my opinion,  the pitch process itself is becoming a little outdated given our new mediums to spread messaging.  Back in the day when everything was about TV and print, crafting a great message could be done without as much planning.  An agency or freelancer could come up with a really great message or idea, blast it out on TV, and even develop the product itself around this great idea.  Now, your audience wants to know that your idea is based on making their lives easier and better.  Also, they don't want to hear it on TV, they'd like you to be on their medium of choice. 
It's almost impossible to do all of this on the front end and provide a slam dunk idea without having some serious discussions with your client.
Because ideas are becoming a lot of work to tailor to the needs of our changing consumers, the people who are coming up with them are getting more and more protective.  
To update your pitch process you'll need to explain to your clients that the communication landscape is changing.  They don't have one audience - for example Teens.  You have alternative teens, music loving teens, brainy teens, career oriented teens, rebel teens, and countless other groups that all spend time in different places with different messaging opportunities.  One idea targeting Teens is probably going to flop, or at least waste a lot of money missing the mark.
Show your prospective client how you might target one slice of the Teen audience so they can get an idea of your process and leave the rest until you have a formal contract.

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Blogger Royce said...

Hey C-Mac, can I ask you a corollary of this problem? I'm in the position of what one of your clients would be in, so I'm really curious.

When you go to a client with your social media ideas and expertise, how long do you expect to work with them? Because basically you are "teaching them how to fish" by giving them all this social media savvy, and at some point they are going to go run free in the social media sphere all on their own, right? So you give them this info, then they stop being your client once they know enough to do it without you?

How does that normally play out for you?

February 4, 2010 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Caitlin said...

Royce - You bring up a good point, that people (if I do my job right) will eventually learn to handle their own social media projects.
Over time, I do work less with some clients as they become less dependent on me so there is some natural attrition however, most companies don't have time to stay totally current in this ever changing field. I am frequently called back to 'update' everyone and give them some new insights on what's new and changing.
Also, there are clients who don't want to become social media experts and will never stop working with me. These clients are making an investment in me as I learn about their brand, their industry, etc. It's almost like I'm a remote employee.
I am comfortable with different set-ups when it comes to length of working relationship. Some clients want me to come in every day for a week for a crash course for their team and we don't work much longer than that. It all depends on the brand and as long as there are new businesses and brands that want to use social media popping up every day, I'm happy to fit into a company where they need me.

February 4, 2010 at 1:05 PM  
Blogger Andrea V. Lewis said...

Great post Caitlin! I have to say, even though I've never worked on new biz pitches, I couldn't agree more with you in regards to agencies protecting their ideas during this process.

In fact, your post reminded me of one pitch my old agency did and after weeks, maybe even months of waiting for an answer from the prospective client, someone had leaked their plan to keep having work pitched to them every quarter and then leaving it up to their marketing departments to develop it further.

I know first hand the money, time, and energy that gets spent on pitches. For clients to have the audacity to do that sort thing, really leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I guess that just goes to show you that you need to be just as picky deciding which clients to take on.

Thx girlie!

February 4, 2010 at 2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like the emphasis is being shifted from ideas to execution as the market gets multi-layered and fragmented. Does that mean that we do not have to worry too much about protecting ideas because as you implied they are free?
I am guessing that people who over-protect ideas end up in choking themselves because what they are doing is actually separating themselves from reality.

February 4, 2010 at 8:40 PM  
Anonymous Joe said...

Great article, Caitlin!

As a freelance designer and copywriter, I've pitched complete ideas to clients before only to have them thank me then find someone in-house, someone's kid or a 'friend of a friend' create my concept for free (*shakes fist*).

Now I take the movie trailer approach to creating my pitch. Give just enough that they can sense what the concept is going to be, but not enough so they can figure out the plot. I also don't answer many questions that start with 'How?' - How am I going to create this for you? Hard work, buddy.

February 11, 2010 at 6:20 AM  

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