Getting Into the Content Development Game #4 – Working the Room


This is the fourth article in a 5-part series, “Getting Into the Content Development Game.”

In this series we’ve been discussing what it takes to develop great content ideas and get them sold – and distributed – in today’s very competitive and crowded content market. 

We defined content as “end product/entertainment” vs. “marketing” content.

We discussed how to increase your ability to sell through strong pitch materials – both deck and visual sizzle.

We looked at the market – one that is ever diversifying but also ever tightening – in terms of margins and which distributors are worth pursuing. 

So, now to battle: You have your company’s content elevator pitch tight and sexy.  You know you can kill the meeting and sell your concept.  That is, if you can sell the room.  And you want to be in the room, not on the phone.

GOING SOLO MIGHT BE A MISTAKE

No matter how many times I’ve gone into a pitch (and regardless of how well-known I am to development execs) I have to be honest, it aways nerve-wracking. And landmines abound.

Let me ask you: do you feel that you have the production experience to really pull off that which you are pitching?  Will your track record give a distributor supreme confidence that you are able to produce at the level they expect?

While you may say “of course”, let me argue “maybe not.”

This then begs a question: are you willing to partner to land a sale?

Many established production companies have partnered on projects (especially early on in their company’s content history) that are outside their core expertise, not because they can’t produce, but to ensure closing a sale.  Having a trusted partner who brings additional experience – and confidence for the distributor – might be the one thing that gets your idea sold.

So be willing to partner on your idea.  You might say “But then I lose profit and/or control!”  Perhaps.  But what is better, producing 50% of a series or producing 100% of nothing?

Think smart here.  Think strategically.  Think about what will drive a sale and result in longevity.

GATEKEEPER, GATEKEEPER, PLEASE LET ME IN!

Let’s assume you have the partnership question above answered.  And you have your materials ready for prime-time.  And you have done your research and are ready to blow the room away.  Now the only question remaining is:

“How do I get into the room?”

This question assumes you do not have a direct relationship with the series content development team (department) at the distributor you are looking to pitch.

It’s worth noting that there are many networks and buyers that I don’t know personally. Some of the players move around, others I don’t know because I haven’t pitched them before.

How do I get in?  I find the gatekeeper.

I’m always impressed by those that can cold call and get in the door.  But once in, is anyone in the room championing you?

Here are some ideas for you to consider: Do you have an agent or manager that knows the right people to get you in touch with?  Do you have friends or colleagues that can make the right introduction?  Do you have contacts in the distributor’s marketing department that you’ve worked with over the years that can make an intro?  Do you have close friends on LinkedIn that are connected to the right people?

Make sure you have put as much into finding the actual gatekeeper as you have put into your pitch.

THE WISDOM OF EMINEM

Let’s say you made it into the hallowed halls of a TV network or other distributor.  You’ve seen the fancy digs, you’ve been given a cold brew coffee beverage, led down a corridor covered with photos of hit series, and then into a conference room.  You have your pitch deck ready to plug into their A/V system.  You have your video cued up.

Now what?  In the immortal words of Eminem “You’ve only got one shot, do not miss your chance to blow…”

First, who is with you?  Do you have your show’s talent alongside?  Or the author of your IP as your wingman?  How many are attending from your team and what are their roles?  Is your producing partner (if you partnered) with you?

Think through this before you set your meeting.  Do not have too many on your side of the table, but make sure those that accompany you each have a role to play.  I am a fan of more than one, so that you have someone to play off of.  But if the idea is exclusively yours, then you are enough.

And who is there on the distributor/buyer side?  Always try to have at least a director-level person, as you want to get as much of a “decision maker” as possible.  If not (did they pawn you off on a manager-level person?) then make sure you know how they get things up their food chain.

Similarly, if you are pitching talent, see if someone from their talent department can be present in the room.

Next, know the room.  If you’ve done your homework then you know what the network is looking for, what they’ve green lit recently, and their programming buckets.  But do you know who is in the room?  Do you know their roles?  Do you know which series they oversee or have personally green lit?  Is your pitch tailored to this room or is it generic and something that you’re shopping to TLC, YouTube Red and PBS?  (If you can’t tell from my comments so far in this series, I do not recommend coming into this meeting with a generic deck…)

And while you are pitching your idea, you have to remember that the people on the other side of the table want to see that you understand them: their needs, their focus, their POV.  So as you start, I’m a big fan of making sure you make it clear that you’re prepared. You’ve done your research.  As you ask them about their focus, etc. you will find that they will be giving you clues as to what they expect to hear in your pitch.  Listen for clues.  That will help you present your ideas in ways that make it clear that you have the right idea and you are the right partner.

I cannot emphasize this point enough: you have to be all about them if you hope to sell to them.  And then you need to be able to answer positioning questions, answering big ideas like WHAT, WHY, HOW and WHO.  Sound familiar?

Lastly, do not fill all the time with talking.  You have to make sure that you give ample time for conversation and questions.  If you have 30 minutes with the team and you’ve spent 28 presenting, chances are they are not going to feel invested.

If they ask no questions or cannot be involved in the discussion, you just lost a sale.

THE ART OF THE PIVOT

I’ve mentioned previously the ability to pivot.  Even the most expertly researched and crafted idea is not bigger than the room you are pitching.  You cannot be arrogant and think that your idea is so good it cannot be adjusted.  After all, you are coming to the room asking for funding and an opportunity to get it on air.  Always remember: “He who controls the purse controls the idea.” 

Thus you need to be able to read the room and pivot, to bring your concept in line with theirs.

How do you pivot?  Simple.  You listen.  You look for ways to integrate their ideas and comments into every aspect of your pitch.  If they are drawn to your overview but are lost in the details, move them past that area they are fixating on.  Better yet, ask for their ideas.  Let them know that you are willing to adjust.  Make sure that their focus becomes your focus.  Why?  Because there are no new ideas, only ideas that morph into a new POV that they find more compelling than any other they have heard before.

But also in reading the room, know when to cut your losses.  Not all ideas can sell.   Not all will bowl them over.  If it’s not going well, know when to end the pitch – before you’ve soured them on meeting with you in the future.

That’s part of the pivot, too: listen out for what you are not bringing… so you bring it the next time.

CLOSE THE SALE

For argument sake, let’s assume that you have not bombed.  Rather,  you’ve done a great job in pivoting and getting the room excited and engaged in discussion.  Now what do you leave the room?

I’m not a fan of the leave-behind.  Once you give them documents, what’s left… other than hounding them?  And, if you leave behind your materials (since clearly you crafted them prior to the meeting) you miss the opportunity to revise and address any issues/questions/ideas that were discussed live in the room.

Rather, send a leave-behind as part of a proactive follow up.  This gives you a reason to keep the conversation moving forward.

Another tip in closing the sale: do not present a budget!  If they ask price point for the idea, be careful presenting one.  “You who quotes price first, often loses”.  So be prepared to talk budget broadly, but wait until you are farther in the process before you present numbers that might give them pause.  It’s a subtle point but one that has killed more than one deal in my past.

PUT IT THERE, PAL!

Congrats, all you hard work has paid off!  The distributor wants to move forward with your content idea.  You, sir or madam, are officially in business with your idea!

Now what?  This is uncharted territory.  Are you going into a development deal?  Are they ordering a Proof of Concept?  A Pilot?  Straight to Series?  Are you prepared for this exciting next step?  That’s what we’ll explore in our final article in this series.


Patrick Jager is a Content Consultant at RevThink and CEO of strategic advisory firm CORE Innovation Group. He is a frequent speaker, panelist and author on the topics of media, brand, and business leadership.

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