Pitching Yourself

On Tuesday I watched the first episode of the reality show On The Lot. Supposedly, through a series of Survivor-like eliminations, they’re going to discover a great new director and let them direct a film. To get on the show people had to submit a film, so they already know that everyone involved can produce a viable product. The competitions seem to focus on other related skills. Tuesday’s show focussed on giving a "pitch," from a one-line premise they were given, to a group of industry people who would judge them on their idea and presentation skills.

I was shocked at how horrible most of the candidates were at selling themselves. Instead of talking excitedly about how fantastic all their ideas were, most of them started with an apology or communicated how little they thought of the premise they were given.

It really brought into focus how terrible most creative people are at selling themselves. If you can’t convince someone how fantastic what you’re doing is, why should they even bother to check it out?

Even if what you are doing is complex and layered, shouldn’t you be able to clearly and enthusiastically describe in a way that would make someone want to learn more about it? Isn’t it worth a few minutes to figure our how to describe what you do to other people?

One of the judges on the show said, It costs about a $100,000 a day to film a major motion picture. When you are a pitching a story to a company, they have to feel like they can trust you with that much money. Even if they like the story, they might not trust you.

Don’t apologize for what you’re doing! Let other people know how great
it is. They may decide they don’t want it, but they’ll walk away
feeling like you know what you’re doing. Get so good at selling yourself that everyone you talk to would trust you with their money!

Here’s an idea, pretend you are sitting across from a New York Times reporter. He/She is bored, doesn’t know who you are but has to interview you, He/She says, "So, what exactly do you do?"

Answering this question is the key to getting an audience to trust you.

What Is Beauty? An Experiment

Does context matter for beauty? Do people need to be told what is beautiful? Or, does beauty stand out no matter where it is?

The Washington Post did a simple experiment to try and answer this question. They got Joshua Bell, one of the world’s most famous violinists who can charge $1000 a minute for his services, to play in a crowded pedestrian area in Washington D.C. during rush hour. They had crowd control measures in place in case things got out of control and let him loose. He played for 43 minutes.

Any guesses as to the outcome?

The Post went to the director of the National Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, and asked his prediction.

"Let’s assume," Slatkin said, "that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician . . . Still, I don’t think that if he’s really good, he’s going to go unnoticed. He’d get a larger audience in Europe . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening."

So, a crowd would gather?

"Oh, yes."

And how much will he make?

"About $150."

There was a shoeshine place nearby and the lady running it usually calls the police on musicians because they drive away her business. She didn’t call the police that day even though the music was far too loud for her liking because the musician was pretty good. A postal worker stops at the top of an escalator when he hears the music. He has to go back and find the source. He gave $5 and still didn’t recognize who Bell was even though he was a fan.

In total for that day he collected $32.17. Some people gave him pennies and he was recognized once. No crowd control was needed.

I think this just goes to show the importance of context for art. Also, it shows how much other people depend on experts and crowds to tell them what is good. Most people like what other people tell them to like. They don’t have time to find beauty on their own.

I’m betting if he played there for every single day for a year, by the end of the time he would have fans and crowds. Eventually the early adopters would find him and then the rest would follow.

Kind of sad to think of beauty as a commodity that needs to be marketed instead of beauty having its own appeal.

There are great videos taken of the experiment embedded in the article.

Read the article and watch the videos here

Parody Yourself, I Did And Ended Up With A Bacon Tuxedo

The company I work for, Archie McPhee, decided that we were going to do an April Fools joke homepage this year. I had the task of coming up with the products and soon realized that I was basically being asked to parody myself. If you aren’t familiar with the company, our products are incredibly over the top and exaggerated to begin  with. (Our top sellers include Bacon Mints and Remote Controlled Hopping, Yodeling Lederhosen.)

I recommend trying this exercise to everyone who does anything creative. It’s really much harder than you think! Half the ideas I came up with we decided were something we might actually do at some point in the future. (Which makes this exercise useful) The other half were too grotesque or profane to risk affiliation with our company. (Rainbow Flavored Unicorn Poop Candy? No.) I probably went through 15 ideas before settling on the first usable one.

After a few days, I decided to go for products that would be physically impossible, legally impossible or something that no one would want to buy. I came up with the Bacon Scented Bacon Tuxedo, the Baby Parachute, a Beard of Bees Kit and a Surprise Dumpster. You can see them here. Our graphics department did an ace job with the pictures, they sell the whole thing.

The reaction so far has been mixed. Some people, like Seth Godin, get it. Some don’t. I have to admit that I did enjoy the fact that proof of the downfall of civilization sprang from my brain.

The most interesting part of the whole experience for me has been the fact that the world is so over the top now, that people believe a product with this description would actually go on sale:

Beard Of Bees Kit
Tired of boring old facial hair? Take it up to the next level with a Beard of Bees! Years in development, we have finally come up with an economical way to take advantage of all the buzz about bee beards. In each box, you’ll get a tube of royal jelly, a grooming wand and a coupon for bees. Just send in the coupon or call with your redemption number and the following morning you’ll receive a package of 30,000 bees in our patented UPS approved Swarm Sack™ packaging. After they arrive, apply the royal jelly to your chin, neck and chest, shake the bag vigorously and then release the bees. Use included wand to coax bees into beard shape. Fun for birthdays, retirements or bachelorette parties. Not recommended for indoor use.

So, whatever you usually create, try and parody it. See what you come up with, it might surprise you!

April Fools Page

Marketing Yourself: Don’t Push The Bad Stuff

This advice is incredibly obvious, but not easy to hear. One of the primary marketing faults I see in creative communities is that people use all of their resources to push what they produce regardless of the quality of the product. Every actor has been in a bad show. Every artist goes through a period without inspiration. Not all art is created equal. However, some people invite everyone they know to see, read or listen to everything they do.

If people see you produce bad work they are less likely to want to see what you do next. It’s exactly the same process that people use when they judge a company’s products. If you buy a watch that breaks right after you buy it, you are less likely to be willing to buy that brand again. Get bad food from a restaurant and you won’t go back for a while. It’s just basic human nature.

This is particularly important with first impressions. If you read a novel from a writer than you love, you will probably still read their next one. However, if the first book you read by someone is terrible, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll ever attempt another novel by that writer.

Since word of mouth is your best advertisement, it’s to your benefit that as few people as possible see the bad stuff. Find honest feedback that you trust and if that feedback tells you you’re involved with a stinker, don’t push it. Make sure people look forward to what you do next.

Even big Hollywood stars don’t follow this rule. Of course, they’re contractually obligated to advertise everything they do no matter how bad. You probably aren’t.

You have limited resources to market your creativity, make sure you use those resources on the good stuff.

Selling yourself: marketing yourself with your own personal failures

This is the first part in a series on marketing yourself as a creative person. Obviously every solution won’t work for every person. These are just suggestions on creating an appealing personal narrative that will help you to make you and your work memorable to other people.


To sell yourself, whether in the media or just making yourself memorable to people you meet, you need to create a personal story that sticks. One powerful way to create an instant story for yourself is to point out a failure that contrasts with whatever current success you have.

Our natural tendency as humans is to hide our failings. We want to deny anything that doesn’t fit in with our current perception of ourselves. However, what we find most interesting in other people is what they don’t want us to know about them. Letting people inside some of your failures creates an instant memorable narrative.

Jim Carrey slept in a van when he was growing up. William Carlos Williams was a working doctor. Johnny Depp started out on 21 Jump Street. Bon Jovi sang on the Star Wars Christmas Album.

By the way, failure in the sense I’m using it in this article is not objective failure. Failure in this sense is anything that prevents you from living the creative lifestyle you want to live. If you are a highly paid attorney and you would rather be a novelist, for our purposes, being a lawyer is a failure. (People imagine that successful creative people don’t need to do anything but their art, so any other work is a failure. Sad but true!) If you had a big show at a major New York gallery and didn’t sell a single painting, that is also failure even though getting a gallery show in the first place is a success. If you were homeless last year and are now a rock star, being homeless is a failure even if it wasn’t your fault.

A good exercise is to imagine that you have an incredibly bored and cynical reporter sitting in front of you. He/She has been assigned to do a story on you, but only if there is something interesting to write about. This person already knows about your successes, has read the one paragraph published bio on your website and rolls his/her eyes when you start talking about your future projects. What do you do?

If you got an F in high school English and you just published a story in the New Yorker, it’s a memorable hook. If you worked as a rodeo clown for two summers in high school and you now sing heavy metal music, it’s a great story. The caricature that you drew in your college newspaper that got you expelled, fantastic! The experimental art show you participated in where you played a spermatozoa running headfirst into an egg, wonderful!

The more embarrassing the story, the better. The bigger the contrast between then and now, the better. Don’t be angry about these failures, just smile when you talk about them. You’ve moved past them. They’re part of the story. They’re giving people something to say about you.

Remember, we aren’t trying to give people a look into the truth of your inner-being, we are reducing your life to a three sentence pitch that will get you a story in the paper, on the radio or on TV. We’re giving you an easy to remember hook that will make people want to tell other people about you and your work.
One final bit of advice. Don’t lie. I guarantee you it isn’t necessary. Everybody who does something creative for a living has failed at one time or another. The more personal and unique your failure, the better the story is and the more people will want to see what you’re doing.

The one thing marketing can’t do is make the product better. That’s up to you.

Selling yourself: change the story not the core

Seth Godin, one of the few marketing experts worth paying attention to, posted a brief blog entry today about a segment of the population he calls Noisy People. These are the people who actually talk about things, comment in blogs and evangelize the things they like. He points out, correctly in my opinion, that attracting the Noisy People can cut you off from the mainstream.

Here’s his conclusion:

So, if you want to reach the masses, you’ll need to realize that changing your story (but not your essence) is part of the deal. It’ll disappoint your noisy people, no doubt about it. But if you’re authentic in the core of what you offer, they’ll forgive you. The challenge is in creating a product or service or platform that can sustain both stories.

I think you’ll recognize in that statement a justification for what creative people call “selling out”. Most creative people are so terrible at marketing that they neglect it entirely, so they never even appeal to the noisy people. How many people do you know who have been fortunate enough to make the choice about whether to sell out or not?

Ivory tower creative types, the kind that no one actually knows about because the art they create has never been seen, think that their creations should be sold only on its artistic merits.  Instead of thinking that the core is the most important aspect of what they create, they feel the core is the only important part.

Think about the story of what you create. Use the story. Tell the story. If the story is interesting enough, it will get repeated by the Noisy People. Then, if you are extremely lucky, you will be able to choose whether or not to sell out to the mainstream.

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