Words and interview by Simon Bland
For creatives, few moments are more critical than the pitch. Months of planning, development, research and creation, all filtered down into one brief and highly pressurised meeting which, if done correctly, can drastically alter the direction of your company. While everyone has different techniques for successfully navigating these self-promotional moments, others specialise in offering advice on how to ensure you’re as prepared as can be when the time comes to present your business in the best possible light. Mickey Rogers is one of those people.
A former journalist, she’s the co-founder of Forefront Entertainment, a film and TV production company that successfully pitched, sold and created a range of kids’ projects that won an international Emmy among other accolades. Cut to today and you’ll often find her sharing insights gleaned from her years of successful pitching to eager creators, which is why we asked her to host her own digital seminar as part of our Screen Growth skill development programme. Here, Rogers shared a selection of pitching and sales tips to a small group of viewers; however if you missed out, don’t worry. We caught up with her afterwards to pick her brains about the various do’s and don’ts of the pitching world and how to make your creative concept a reality.
To start with, Rogers suggested bringing things back to basics by highlighting a key aspect of selling any film or TV-based project. “You really have to prepare,” she told us. “Everybody’s looking for ‘unique’ and while your programming ideas don’t have to mimic or imitate whatever [a studio’s] programming is right now, you do have to have an idea of where they’re having success,” reasons Rogers. “Do your homework. Know the outlet and the person that you’re pitching to. People often come to the market with big dossiers of information – so you have to have a pretty good knowledge before you go in.”
Once you know your stuff, Rogers recommends trying to simplify your offering in order to keep it as concise and engaging as possible. “You have to be able to distil what you’re talking about before you launch into your story so people have an awareness of what kind of genre or conflict they might see,” she says, hitting home the importance of having a well-honed elevator pitch before getting into the nitty-gritty of the story you’re trying to sell. “You need to have a good idea of what the whole show is about, then it becomes a question of storytelling. Make sure you’ve practised and be really clear about the beginning, middle and end,” she adds. “Sometimes it’s easier if the creator is the one who’s delivering the pitch.”
It’s here where having assets, visual aids or a few engaging added-extras can help pique an investor’s interest. After all, you’re trying to convince them that you’re the person they should be backing so how you can achieve that goal should be at the forefront of your mind. “A lot of people starting out don’t have access to stars or a well known director so they need something that shows that they are unique and able to deliver.” Rogers continues, explaining that having “some footage or a brief trailer that shows characters” can be key – as long as it adheres to one all-important caveat: “It can’t be bad,” she laughs. “That would be the worst thing”.
Once you’ve fully illustrated your idea, Rogers proposes finding time to turn the focus back onto yourself to showcase your own story so far. “Who are you and why are you the best person to be telling this particular story? There’s got to be a reason why your company and your team are pitching this project. The thing that’s infusing your whole pitch should be ‘can I trust you?’,” she reasons. “You really have to answer that question and explain why it’s your programme that’s going to make it.” This – combined with some strong visual aids and assets – can help you stand out from the crowd: “The proof is in the pudding.”
Of course, no two pitches are ever the same and sometimes nerves will threaten to sabotage even the best laid plans. Luckily, Rogers has some thoughts on how to keep anxiety at bay, something which, while not affecting everyone, does tend to throw a spanner in the works for those working through their first few sales sessions.
“I’ve been at pitches where people are so excited and passionate about what they’re pitching, their energy just takes them through – and it’s quite wonderful,” she says, emphasising that a bit of “authenticity is really crucial” whenever talking to potential investors. However for those that struggle with stress: “I always have pockets when I go into a pitch because I tend to use my hands a lot which can be very distracting,” says Rogers on how she handles pitch-room anxiety. “You’ve got to make sure you’re as calm as can be,” she adds. ‘I think the more you know yourself, the more it helps people to trust you.”
With the pandemic leaving some people still working from home, many pitches these days feature a laptop screen separating you from your industry connections. If you find yourself in this type of situation, take some time to think about your surroundings – it could make or break your presentation. “Set yourself up so you’re totally comfortable and there’s no activity behind you so you can really concentrate,” suggests Rogers, before highlighting that this new way of working may even be beneficial to the modern day pitching process. “People aren’t having to travel to get to you so you may even get another meeting out of it quicker than usual – and your goal is to get a second meeting because that means they’re serious about your project.”
Speaking of which, how exactly do you get access to these ‘people’ in the first place? While the pandemic meant IRL networking was a no-go, its slow burn return now means that creators can once again get out there and in front of the right people.
To this, Rogers once again recommends doing a bit of homework: “What I get people to do is to have a strategic list of people and just stick to it,” she says, adding that having a “third person” that can shout your praises is also a useful tool. “You almost need a person to vote for you,” she chuckles. Finally – and perhaps most importantly – be tenacious and persistent. Knockbacks are bound to happen but that shouldn’t put you off: “We’re in this business because we like telling stories and entertaining people, right?” reasons Rogers. “If it’s not this one, it’ll be another one.”