For producers and directors alike, the creative call can be one of the most surprisingly stressful steps in the commercial filmmaking process.
On the one hand, it’s just a simple phone conversation with clients.
On another, a wrong move in the creative call could mean the difference between winning a job and, well, having no job at all.
To ease your mind and boost your confidence, we’ve curated tips from working producers to ace the creative call, impress your clients, and win more business. We caught up with veteran producer and ABID president, Danny Rosenbloom to get more insight into how to pitch like a pro.
But, first, let’s cover the basics.
The creative call is an initial phone conversation (can be in-person) with clients and/or agency representatives. As its name implies, the point of the creative call is to discuss the initial creative concepts and guidelines associated with a to-be-produced commercial spot or campaign.
However, that definition skims the surface.
On a much deeper (and more important) level, the creative call is also an opportunity to impress your clients, build a relationship with them, and set the stage for a winning bid.
The creative call happens well before a job is awarded. This is the time to make a first impression and, preferably, to make it count. As a reminder, this is not the time to have a production meeting or assert your creative opinions---first and foremost, it is the time to listen. But we’ll get into this later.
Directors and producers generally tackle the creative call together. With that in mind, we’ve constructed our list of insights to view them as a team.
Let’s start from the top.
If you want to impress your clients (or future clients), the first step is always to do your homework.
Before heading into the creative call, your team should understand your clients as thoroughly as possible.
Know the answers to these questions before the call:
The answers to these questions (and any others you can think of) will shape your approach to the creative call.
Possessing a deep understanding from the get-go will not only impress your clients on the surface, but will also inspire confidence in you and your dedication.
But researching isn’t just about scoring brownie points.
It’s also about self-preservation.
Solid research before the creative call will help you avoid any conversational landmines. You wouldn’t want to make a joke to Pepsi about another competing brand that turns out isn’t a competing brand at all, but a subsidiary.
You’ll know whether there are controversies, histories, or red flag items of any kind to avoid.
As you're conducting research and reviewing the initial project brief, you should begin developing ideas.
That’s probably a no-brainer.
What may be less obvious, however, is the importance of focus and clarity within the ideas you ultimately choose to present.
In figuring out how to impress clients and win more business, volume is a tempting characteristic to pursue. The concept of coming to the creative call with an overflowing fountain of ideas sounds awe-inspiring, but that’s not necessarily the case.
In the creative call, you’re selling yourself more than you’re selling an idea. Joining the call with a jumbled pile of ideas may come off insecure, like you lack faith in your own abilities.
But joining the creative call with one or two clear, concise ideas will communicate commitment, confidence, and capability. Even if the ideas themselves don’t hit, your demeanor alone could increase the trust factor and impress your clients enough to give you a competitive edge.
The simplest item on this list is also the most important. When it comes to the creative call, listen more than you speak.
By the time the creative call rolls around, clients and their ad agencies have put an immense amount of time, energy, and thought into an advertising campaign. They’ve built a level of ownership in the project that far exceeds that of even the most well-researched producer or director.
To impress your clients, it’s important to respect that ownership.
And the best way to show respect, as always, is to listen.
But that does bring up an interesting point.
How do you impress your clients if all you’re doing is listening?
There is literally no better way to figure out how to impress clients and win more business than by asking them questions.
If you focus on asking thoughtful questions early on, it’s almost a guarantee that you will engage your clients from the very beginning of the creative call. Doing so is both a sign of respect and an invitation to collaborate, which is exactly what your client is looking for.
And, as with research, good questions can also be a form of self-preservation.
Open-ended questions are the perfect way to test your ideas about the clients’ materials but they also provide an opportunity to learn more about what it is they truly want so you can guard yourself against potential mistakes in the future.
Even if a question seems silly, trust that the question is worth asking. It’s almost always better to ask.
While creative calls are a business function, the relationships underlying them are far more important than any item on the agenda.
Contrary to popular belief, the best way to impress your clients is not really by impressing them at all. The most crucial task of the creative call for producers and directors is to simply establish a friendly rapport with client and agency personnel.
In some cases, this is easier said than done, but asking questions, showing sincere curiosity, and finding common interests will do most of the job most of the time.
If you want to impress your clients, then your first contact must make an impression upon them. Finding a way to make yourself memorable at the very least ensures that you and your team will occupy some brain real estate after the meeting closes.
There are many ways to make an impression, but, beware --- there are many pitfalls as well.
It’s tempting to make yourself memorable by boasting achievements. This isn’t necessarily a bad impulse but be sure to recognize the thin line separating success and failure.
Your accomplishments can be communicated instead as you demonstrate competence because this is key to winning a client’s confidence. But do so with humility, otherwise, you run the risk of seeming difficult to work with.
Similarly, bringing gimmicks into the creative call (like calling from an exotic location) may seem like a shortcut to leaving an impression. While there is truth to that, gimmicks also run the risk of leaving the wrong kind of impression. If it happens organically and without intruding upon the actual business of the call, the client might be receptive. If the gimmick feels in any way forced, however, it’s more likely to make your clients feel uncomfortable.
Keep in mind that, as in all things, the simple methods for making an impression are often the best. Demonstrate your character, find personal connections, and act with confidence.
What better way to impress your client than to make your ideas the climax of the creative call?
Think of it like going to the movies. Do you want to watch a flick that peaks at the fifteen-minute mark? Or, do you want to watch a film that launches you out of the theater on a high?
It’s the same with the creative call. By waiting to pitch your ideas at the end, you’ll have the opportunity to leave your clients wanting more.
Plus, if you’ve made the effort to ask attentive questions throughout the call, pitching your ideas at the end will allow you to adjust, troubleshoot, and refine them to best meet your client’s needs. It’s a simple but clear sign of respect that allows your clients to retain a feeling of ownership over the creative and establishes your relationship with them as a mutual collaboration.
Any way you look at it, patience is still a virtue.
You may have noticed by now that most of our tips have little to do with the actual content of the creative call. We’re offering minimal detail on how to construct your ideas to best impress your clients. That’s because how you pitch is more important than what you pitch.
Because how you pitch is what grants you more opportunities to pitch in the future.
The reality is that, unless they’re Spike Jonze or David Fincher, even successful directors and producers are going to lose more pitches than they win in an average year. That may sound disappointing, but it’s actually a good thing. It means that, oddly enough, not winning is fine as long as you impress your clients as a creative and a professional.
People love a winner, yes, but people love an underdog even more. Of course, you want to win, but it’s important to win for the right reasons. And if you’re going to lose, try to do so in a way that makes them love you for how you lost.
For instance, if you pitch an idea with an arrogant air, your client may love the concept and hire you once but be reluctant to work with you again. On the other hand, if you pitch an idea with passion and consideration, your client may not love your idea but they will be excited to talk to you about future projects.
Short-term loss. Long-term gain.
Approaching your clients with humility, competency, creativity, and professionalism will make them want to see you in the future, whether they select your pitch or not. You may not win the current bid, but the right attitude can gain you access to more bids farther down the road.
Even a losing pitch can be a win, if you walk away having gained a future opportunity.
Your work on the creative call doesn’t end after you hang up the phone. After the call, the producer should first speak with the director then follow up with the client and agency, no matter what.
The follow-up contact after a creative call is pivotal for setting your team apart from the herd. It’s an opportunity to amplify the positive effects of every item we’ve talked about above. You’ll have an additional swing at forging bonds, demonstrating competence, making an impression, and learning new information (that probably wasn’t in the initial call).
This latter point is of particular importance in light of what comes after the creative call. The follow-up gives you a chance to sniff out any do’s or don'ts for constructing your presentation materials.
Usually, you’ll be expected to put together a treatment or pitch deck, but there are likely restrictions inside those bounds and perhaps opportunities outside them.
For example, what are the rules of your client’s logo? You’ll likely want to include it somewhere in your treatment, but it could be a disaster if you included the wrong version or modified it in an undesired way. The follow-up call is the perfect time to check in on logo and other brand guidelines.
On the other end of the spectrum, the follow-up call is also a perfect time to investigate whether creating additional materials might be worth the extra effort. In addition to the treatment, you might want to craft select storyboards or a 3D pre-visualization sample to sell your idea. However, it might not be a good call to do that in all situations. Sometimes, a client may not be receptive to materials outside the bounds of what they’ve requested.
In any case, always find a reason to reach out after the creative call. You’ll be glad you did.
This insight may seem silly at a glance, but it’s deadly serious in practice, at least in terms of your business. There are few things that will make your client more uncomfortable than a mid-call realization that you’ve been monitoring their Instagram stories.
Despite all the tips about making friends, doing research, and being curious, it’s important to remember that it is possible to take these things too far.
Always respect your clients’ boundaries.
There is no single approach to figuring out how to impress clients and win more business either on the creative call or beyond it. Every pitch is different, as is every team.
Each creative call requires a careful intertwining of confidence and humility, but exactly how you achieve that is up to you.
For more information on the pitch process, be sure to check out our guide to filling out the AICP bid form.
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