Monday, January 2, 2012

Pitch 101: Part 3 - Velcro Theory and the Audience

This is part 3 of an on-going series on how to pitch your product. Part 1 and 2 are available here and here.

Happy Year of Our Alleged Impending Apocalypse! If there was ever a catalyst for you to be productive and successful, it has to be the chance that suddenly all life as we know it could wink out of existence. It's practically a Doctor Who plot. In fact, I think it was.....

So, let's move right along to Part 3 of Pitch 101, and build on what we already know about USPs (Unique Selling Points) and types of pitches. Today, it's going to get a little tricky, as we'll turn the pitch around and consider it from the barrel-end.

Have you ever asked yourself what the audience hears when you pitch? If you've ever pitched to me, you know I have this...quirk/habit of making very clear whether or not you have my attention. This is remarkably helpful for people, but not everyone will have such a transparent audience.

I know the assumption is made and repeated in lots of books and websites that you're fighting an uphill battle when you pitch, that you have only a few gasps of air to relay, hook and interest your audience, and while that is occasionally true, I do have to tell you that the majority of that fear-mongering is designed to drive you deeper into those books and to rely on them, rather than your own natural abilities to be interesting and appealing.

When you pitch, you're not fighting a losing battle. You may have already lost, if your thinking is so negative or sentimental or emotionally suggestive, but the actual act of pitching, the speaking and exploring the idea is not a lost cause. Just as earlier we talked about the foundations of the pitch as being USPs, now we consider the foundation of your target audience-- Interest.

Let's assume you've got three products: A book, a script and a game. For the sake of future arguments, let's say they're all related and that you're developing a "property" (fancy way of saying you're thinking of stuff, write that down and impress your friends) about....Eskimo Assassins.

In the novel, you tell the story of Tim, the Eskimo Assassin sent to Washington to kill a corrupt senator.


In the movie, you tell the same story, but throw in a B-plot about how Tim falls in love with the senator's daughter, saving her from her father's tainted legacy. (Yes, I did totally roll my eyes when I wrote that.)


In the game, you offer the chance to BE Tim. 

We come to the first idea of the lesson:

I. Know the audience. I like the word 'know' more than the word 'consider' here, because you have to be a little deeper and diligent in your thinking. You have to know the sort of people you're talking to, and know what makes them receptive and what turns them off.

In the above 3 products, you're not talking to the same audience 3 times. The book has one group, the script a second and the third a completely different pool. Yes, they may overlap in some regards, but many of those overlaps don't really concern your pitches (they all wear socks, they all think the Star Wars prequels are awful, etc)

Here's the second idea:

II. Find the 'hook point' of the audience. When you think about your audience, the ideal group of people/consumers/aliens/humans who have purchased your product, there were several things that led them to pick up your creation and give you money for it. But of all the factors that contributed or led to the sale, ONE was special for them. That one item (hopefully a USP) 'hooked' them. 

A hook point is the moment where they shift from aware-of-your-product to interested/wanting-your-product. Ever audience has them. When I say audience, I mean at both the macro (group) and the micro (the individual) level.

This is where people freak out. They see that they have to hook the audience, think that their material is rubbish, think that they cannot do it and despair. Common thinking. Absolutely wrong thinking, but it happens.

Write this down, stick it on the wall of the room where you work on your projects:

Velcro! Be the velcro!

Third idea:

III. Velcro theory. When I was a kid, velcro was a godsend. It took me quite a while to get comfortable tying shoes, and years later, that memory of the texture and sound of velcro has stayed with me.

Velcro works by connecting little loops with little hooks.

I'll say that again -- little loops with little HOOKS.

HOOKS. And loops.

Your pitch has hooks in it. Your audience has loops. That audience wants to grab onto the pitch and stick to it, following it along until they're buying your product late one night in a posh hotel suite on their way to a party. (or something, I don't know where you guys buy your games, but hey, it's life)

Build your hooks out of the USPs and whatever your natural talents are. You do have them. You may speak well. You may smile and be beguiling. You maybe express visual ideas clearly. You know your talents. Apply them to expressing your USPs.

The loops you're trying to snare are the interests of the audience, which you've discovered by knowing the audience. That book agent you've just queried, do you think they really have the time to read 800 words about Eskimo Tim? NO. You need to get right to the heart of the action and the story.

The movie producer with the checkbook? They're looking for beats and character growth. Movie Eskimo Tim better have that.

The game purchasing audience? Layout, boobs occasionally and some interesting mechanics all help. (And nice paper....and PDF support....etc) RPG Eskimo Tim has to hit some key targets

Practice making velcro. Get some paper, divide it into two columns. Call one column "Me" and the other "Them" (or if you want to be professional "product" and "audience")

Down the Me/Product column, list your USPs.
Down the Them/Audience column, write out who that appeals to. (Name them)

For example:

Eskimo Tim is a character with a troubled past
-----  people who enjoy stories about redemption


Eskimo Tim RPG is a game with dice pools and incentives
------ people with a large number of d20s


You're going to really be comfortable with Velcro for Part 4 - Pitch Autopsy.

Happy writing.