For many Directors, the most challenging part of the TVC production process is pitching.
As if it weren’t already tough enough to get to being a TV commercials Director in the first place, during the pitching process you have to sell your idea, your personality and sometimes what feels like your soul to the client.
And that’s all without any guarantee of winning.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world where it’s not always the most skilled Director who gets the job, but the one who manages to sell their vision the best — so knowing how to write a treatment that stands out from the crowd is integral to success.
Pitching can be an uncertain time for even the most battle-hardened Creatives out there, but it’s one of the most rewarding and creatively inspiring parts of TVC production. We know how real the creative block can be, so thought we’d distil our knowledge from crafting thousands of winning treatments into a few simple tips to get you writing and give you the edge in your next creative pitch.
Be a visionary
You’re pitching to stand out from the competition. To win. The best way to do that?
This point seems so obvious that it’s often paradoxically overlooked. Many Directors fall in to the trap of writing what they think the client wants to hear, or playing safe, and it often ends up sounding as sterile as a quarterly finance report.
Don’t be afraid to be weird — embrace it. Talk and think as you would normally. After all, you’ve been chosen to pitch based on your creative portfolio, so to suppress your creativity when selling your vision is to actively work against your chances of winning.
However, that doesn’t mean to let yourself go completely. Make their idea your own, elevate it and embellish it with your personal touch, but be careful not to get totally carried away in the process — the trick is to hit the sweet spot of letting your personality come across within the bounds of what the client wants from the job.
Here are a few concrete tips on how to go about that:
- Try adding a personal anecdote to show how you connect with the script. It can be funny, heartfelt or even metaphorical. Showing that you can relate to the client’s idea is a powerful tool.
- Avoid using language that you wouldn’t in the conference call. If you feel the need to write about how ‘authentic’ or ‘organic’ the end product will look, the chances are that it will read the opposite.
- Use attention grabbing headers. Instead of ‘Casting’ try ‘Meet Dave’. Instead of ‘Tone’ try ‘How it Feels to be Hit Upside the Head with A Metric Shit Ton of Feel-Good’. Whatever, just have fun with it. The people you’re pitching to have to read these things daily, so mixing up the formula a little will increase the chances that they remember you in all the noise.
Approach the conference call with open ears
The con call is a fantastic opportunity to figure out how to approach a job. By the time it happens you’ll have done some serious thinking about your ideas, and you’ll probably be eager to share them. Hold that impulse. Turn on your recorder and sit back and listen.
There’s a lot to be learned from the subtext of the con call. What key words are being repeated? What fears might the client have about the job? Who is the main decision maker, and what do they want? What ideas are the agency Creatives set on, and what do they want you to add to? Write yourself questions like these before the call, because their answers will determine the delivery of your treatment.
Make sure to take time at the front end of the call to listen to the client and gauge how they will be choosing the winner. Don’t jump in and start talking over them about how great the final product will look — use that time consider the best questions to ask. Then near the end of the call you can discuss your vision with their desires in mind.
Finally, listen back to the recording. Maybe even twice. Even while listening attentively and taking notes there’s always priceless information that slips between the cracks, especially in the subtext.
Complement your writing visually
OK not a writing tip, but having amazing visuals is integral to delivering a winning treatment. Here’s the ugly truth: when an Agency Creative picks up your treatment you’ve got about 6 heartbeats before they’ve made up their mind as they thumb through it. The rest of the time they’re simplify reaffirming their initial gut reaction.
Every Director uses images differently when pitching. Some like literal visual expressions of their writing, whereas others prefer to evoke a particular mood or feeling. Some use many images in a montage style, some keep it minimalistic. Take the time to find a style that works — not only for you, but also for the type of job you’re pitching for.
Most treatment writing articles found online will focus on design and formatting when it comes to the visual section. Not this one. You can find how to do that yourself with a few quick searches (though it might take a little longer to learn). Instead, we’ll focus on the highly secretive art of image sourcing, and the do’s and don’ts of image usage.
Many Directors will have a library of images compiled for the sole purpose of creating treatments. These libraries are built over many years from sources of visual inspiration such as stills from TVCs or films, photographs, scans of print ads and magazines, and any number of other visual media. Because of the depth of doing great visual research (not to mention design), many Directors these days outsource their research work to professional Visual Researchers. Their job it is to find, compile and sometimes design images in a way that describes and amplifies the Directors ideas visually.
We can tell you how and where to look, and devote 4 full chapters to this in The Pitch Winner’s Bible, but for this piece we’ll keep it short.
The truth is, there is no singular trick to image sourcing. It’s a skill that requires the brain of a librarian and the touch of an artist, and while it’s possible to learn, it requires time and patience such that it has become a vocation in itself. There are a few ground rules to keep in mind however:
- Don’t ever use stock photo websites or low res. It’s uninspired, and it sucks.
- Try to use images from movies wherever you can. Clients love to see their ad envisioned with a cinematic quality in mind.
- Keep it relevant! Make sure your images complement the writing and stay related to the type of job or visual aesthetic you’re aiming for. Everything in the treatment will impact how the client sees your interpretation of their concept, so it’s important to use images that capture the essence of the idea.