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Swagger, subservience, stalking + 6 more top tips for winning pitches

The perfect pitch message has a vibe halfway between the sweet Motown sound of ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg’ and that scene in Control where Ian Curtis snarls: “Oi Wilson, you &^%$, why haven’t you put us on telly yet?” 

You need to exude confidence in your capabilities, but with a flavour of humility that shows you are easy to work with, and not a raving high-maintenance diva.     

Until that day comes, learn to write punchy text that shows you can think like a buyer, and you’ll get more chances to prove yourself. Here’s my top tips for winning readers over, a few lines at a time.

1. Start like a screenwriter: you need to know your end game

Like a good novelist or screenwriter, you need to know where you’re headed before you set off. By the end of your note, you’re going in for the close: you are going to ask for a face-to-face meeting, at their earliest convenience.

Remember: no close, no point. To have a hope, you’ve got to get your reader to the end with boring or irritating them. Bear this in mind, the whole time.

You have to get straight to the point, then make all supplementary points in an ultra-economical, yet catchy fashion.

2. Represent you to the fullest, in one killer line

Before you sit down at your computer, spend an hour with a pad and paper working out the best way to distil your offer into one killer line, which makes you sound undeniably proficient and useful. 
Mine is: 

I specialise in writing informative content with a human interest angle and just the right level of audience-appropriate wit.

Take your time with this sentence, you’ll be using it over and again. You should also have a few one-liners to describe your most eye-catching experience e.g.: 

I’ve written for the Guardian several times.
I also ghostwrite for a best-selling author.

For an initial pitch, this level of detail is ‘hooky’ and easily-digested, particularly when given a lot of white space around them to breathe. I suggest always delivering the highlights one per line, i.e. as a short standalone paragraph in itself. 

3. Don’t be a stranger, be a stalker (only non-crazies need apply)

Anything you can do beforehand to not be a completely ‘cold call’ is a massive step in the right direction.

If you can get a virtual intro, or meet the target at a network, amazing, but if not, a little light social media stalking can work wonders. If you look at their LinkedIn profile, primal curiosity might well mean they look at yours. Answer their question on Twitter, they might favourite your tweet -or even re-tweet it.

Keep it charming. Don’t go over the top. But don’t assume they’ll hate the attention either - like Noel Gallagher says, you’re nobody until you’ve got at least one stalker. 

4. Know your target’s business

Your mail must feel unique to your target. Never mail merge targets you really want to work with; IMHO you shouldn’t be targeting companies you don’t really want to work with anyway.

Life’s too short. So do your homework, trawl industry news and pertinent social media channels. If an agency has a new client win or a label has signed a new artist or a key team member has moved jobs, you need to know.

It pays to show you’ve done your research. It lets them know you care. 

5. The 1-line ass kiss 

Nobody likes an ass-kisser - unless they are smooth, subtle sycophants who move directly into adding more value than unabashed ego rubbing.

It’s great foreplay for a pitch and a vital cog in the works, but allow yourself a single sentence of butt-kissing - and no more. Pucker up, then move on, apace

Consider words like: interesting, impressive, quality, great work etc. Again don’t go OTT, you’re giving a nod, not acting like a Directioner writing fan-fic. 

6. Don’t be flat, be 3D

It’s very easy to drift into being deadly boring if you’re not careful.

Using active, everyday concepts and phrases will help present you as a likeable person, not just a viable vessel of skills and experience. Active phrases like ‘get involved’ are powerful, as they are non-threatening and energetic.  

Asking to, ‘Hear about what you’ve got going on,’ adds a human, direct non-abstract feel to ‘learn more about your company and upcoming projects.’ 

Never forget the old adage that people buy people: if you’re too robotic or formal, you’re effectively de-humanising yourself. Being professional and human are not mutually exclusive, never forget that. 

7. Tone your successes down to avoid ego-mania

Confidence is a preference but if you come across like you’ve got the ego of Iron Man Tony Starks (the ‘real’ one, not nice guy Ghostface Killah) you’re doing yourself as disservice. This is why I like to describe successes in a very ‘hard news’, objective, matter-of-fact fashion.

Positive affirmations on others’ work is ok, but never use any adjectives to describe your own stuff. But if can put some numbers to it, that’s great e.g. my article got 7000 shares on Facebook.

The goal is sound both interesting, and interested.

A good yardstick is, would you be happy to be stuck talking to your email-self in the kitchen at party? If you honestly would, you’re doing alright.  

8. Be the flexible, convenient choice

Always impart the message that working with you will be easy. 

If you’re local, highlight that. If you already working in a similar area, so you wouldn’t be too time-consuming to brief, highlight that. If you’re brilliant with people and get along with anyone - highlight that, humbly. 

Any statements you make have to be true - if you’re not who your USP says you are, you’ll get found out…and you’ll deserve it.  

9. Always be Closing

Go for the close. It shows confidence and determination.

Ask for that meeting - and make it soon. Offering to chuck a couple of ideas their way might warm things up. Offering to kick a few ideas around isn’t the same as working for free.

You have to give a little of yourself to get noticed - and if they did steal your idea, the basic human instinct for reciprocity might mean they give you the next project all to yourself.   

Final thoughts

Commit as much thought to your pitching as you do to other more artistic projects.

Take pride in it and it will serve you well. Remember, you are confident but collaborative, which means blending bold and humble to best effect.

Get drafting, practice makes perfect!

Is this the perfect cold pitch?

Subject: Creative Argentinian art director now working in London

Hi Matt,

Thank you for your re-tweeting my comments in defence of Paris Hilton’s DJ skills. 

Congratulations on signing Cyberdelic Disco Relic to your label. You’ve got great taste. They’re the best live band I’ve seen in years.  

I wondered if you made any decisions about their art direction yet? I’d really love to get involved. 

I’ve worked with some of the biggest bands in my native Argentina, and many upcoming acts too, in every style from house to heavy metal. I’ve also had photos published in the Face, NME and Mixmag. 

I specialise in showcasing artists’ true psyche through the influence of colour, light and emotion has on public image.  

I live in South London now so it would be easy for us to meet. Maybe I could come and see you next week? 

Thank you for your time, 


Angel Darkweb

Written by Glenn Hickling