Pitching transmedia

(disclaimer: there are as many pitches as there are ideas, and as many ways to pitch them as there are people to pitch them to. With that in mind, I hope you get something out of this post.)

I’ve met a number of people who subscribe to the notion that what people do for a big part in their life is pitch ideas. It doesn’t matter what you’re thinking of – marriage proposals, what to cook for dinner, where to go on your next trip, when your kids should be doing their homework, what club to go to on a Saturday night – it’s all about how you pitch it.

Part of my job description (well, actually not part of my job description, but anyway) is to pitch; i.e. the ideas and the projects we work on have to be pitched successfully to get the necessary funding in for development work, the developed ideas must be pitched to participants, partners etc to go into successful pilot production, and the finished format must be successfully pitched to get a commission in the end. Lots of pitches, lots of different targets and goals.

What I have found challenging is pitching transmedia concepts. There is the issue that transmedia is a relatively new concept and hard to grasp. The people I mostly pitch to are executives and commissioners from more traditional media, television predominantly. Many of our projects have a strong TV connection still, as there is a still a lot of funding to be had from that area, and also, of course, because it’s still a powerful media to tell stories in. These people know their line of work very well; they can ”see” the idea executed in their mind, they have an innate feeling for revenue streams, they know what would make a good show and what would require work, sometimes too much work. But ”seeing” transmedia is different, and I belive it needs a different approach to pitching the ideas as well.

The challenge is to tell just enough of the brilliant transmedia project for everyone to feel that they’re hearing something unique and thrilling, that they simply have to be a part of and take part in. As transmedia projects often are complex workings, dependent on careful planning and execution, the full explanation is a lot to pitch and a lot to grasp. Personally I am a big fan of the elevator pitch – getting the idea down to a 30 second pitch that’ll explain it to anyone. If I can’t manage that, my idea needs working on.

This post is an attempt to gather some thoughts on the subject. Better pitching leads to more great ideas being commissioned, which we all want, methinks.

(There are a great number of other aspects as well, like for instance how to get in touch with the right people to pitch to, how to follow up on pitches etc. For some run-downs on pitching in general, have a look here, or here. I’ll stick to the transmedia part for this post though.)

I’ve polled some people on their thoughts with regards to pitching transmedia, people from slightly different corners of the transmedia field. I asked about what they regard as the most important aspect when pitching a cross media/transmedia property. The thing they, and I, all agree on is the importance of getting the story through in a compelling and exciting way. Mike Monello, of Blairwitch Project and Campfire fame, told me that for him, it’s ”always the story through user experience. Technology only in the context of a specific tactic, and only if necessary. The storytelling that interests me the most isn’t complete without the audience/user, therefore it’s their experience that brings it to life.” (Q:s and A:s were done over Twitter, which explains some omitted words ☺ )

I will most definitely agree on the story being the thing that should hook the audience to your pitch. When I started out, I pitched badly. Really really badly. We were so proud of the tech we had included in our formats that we skipped a large part of the story, in order to explain how nicely all Java-interactivity and set-top-box-interactivity, along with the mechanics of the show fit together. After a dozen pitches during one hectic MIPTV day, I grew tired of the blank look on people’s faces and decided I needed to change my approach. So, yes, the story!

One drawback when pitching transmedia is that there are not that many comparisons you can make. When pitching a script for a movie, you could go for “It’s like Godzilla meets Titanic, in space!” which sort of gives everyone an idea of what it’s about (hmm, I’d like to see that movie btw :). In transmedia, possible comparisons are fewer, which leads to you having to stress the points that are easy to get and that hooks the audience immediately – so if you do not have those points and hooks, you really need to think about developing them!

The guys over at http://www.willyouhelp.co.uk and their interesting and potentially brilliant project Resonance are on the same track. ”[It’s the] story x 3. Must be good enough to engage & sustain across the platforms. [The] story hooks the reader. Tech … reels them in. ;)”

I like the notion of using tech to reel in audiences; using tech as a means to an end is what the content creation business is / should be all about. There quite a few instances where tech takes the more important role; this in turn leads to great examples of how to implement tech, but more seldom to content that engages an audience.

Thirdly, Dr Christy Dena, one of the pioneers in the field and the author of ”Transmedia Practice: Theorising the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World across Distinct Media and Environments.” listed the following points (which may change depending on the client, and are based on the project being unreleased as of yet, as Christy pointed out):

1) Start with story – theme, logline, synopsis, characters
2) A walkthrough of the experience (or part of it – the beginning & perhaps end) from the perspective of the audience
3) Aspects of innovation – the design principles, audience strategies etc
that sets this project apart as being well conceived (which includes a bit
of context)
4) The team – who are the awesome people involved
5) Timeline – what stage are we at, how much longer to go, what the
milestones are, when marketing will happen, when revenue intends to happen
6) Business strategy – including measurement
7) What we want/their role

Again, I’m definitely inclined to agree. These points make sense, especially if you are pitching the idea to a possible partner or financier that you belive has the potential of having a large impact on your project. In my opinion, the points also apply all the more if the person you are pitching to has at least a basic knowledge of the workings of transmedia and the benefits of a transmedia approach to a project. These points should naturally be a part of anyone’s development work as well. It’s a good way to test your idea, to try to do a walkthrough from a users perspective. Also, it’s very easy to forget the last point – to have a firm grasp of what you see your role together with the ones you are pitching to. If you don’t know, who will?

If you however have a 10 minute slot with an acquisition executive of a global production house, I would suggest you stick to the story, the hooks and the grand finale. Hook them and reel them in, make sure you get the go-ahead to approach them for a longer meeting with more executive staff involved in the near future. It’s always easier to say no than to say yes, if you are being sold something (like a transmedia project). But with a good enough story to hook them, you know they will not want to let it go easily. Make sure you’re interesting and exciting, avoid spaced-out and technological.

Finally, a couple of things: as Jeff Gomez suggested, always bring something tangible. A flyer is OK, a graphic novel or a comic is even better. Something to give your idea, your format, more of a physical presence. Just make sure it is up-to-date and repesents your idea properly. I don’t think you need to have a drama-based idea to make a graphic novel either; make an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire into a graphic novel, from the view of a participant, spice it up a bit and you have a great piece of fiction, which explains your game show.

And, when the questions about ”but how do we make any money on this transmedia stuff then?” start piling in, make sure you’ve read up on Robert Prattens slides on Measuring RoI for Transmedia.

I feel there is a lot more to say on this subject, but I’ll stop here (for now :). I’d welcome comments, as there are a lot of people better at pitching than I am, and with a better track record of interesting projects. Hopefully we can make the task of pitching transmedia a slightly easier one :).

7 thoughts on “Pitching transmedia

  1. Great post Simon. I'll agree strongly with the importance of pitching the story because if that's not interesting then nobody is interested in what follows… unless of course you're pitching to a tech-head and then pitch the gizmos first :)If you're allowed a few slides, I'd recommend using my transmedia radar diagram because I think it very quick (at a glance?) conveys the type of experience that's being created. This is important because most worry about "control" and type of interactivity/participation you're proposing.(http://www.transmediastoryteller.com/community/content/5/80/transmedia-radar)

  2. Thanks for taking the time to answer, Christy … in a way it's a bit basic, on the other hand if the basics are not in order, it's hard to get traction for your ideas. I would have liked a post like this when I set out some years ago!Robert, thank you for the diagram, will add that to my repertoire for the longer-than-10-minute-pitches for the future 🙂

  3. Good stuff, Simon. And I'd definitely use Robert's diagram… God knows I've used a bunch of his stuff (what's up, Robert?)!This is timely as we've been looking to approach pitches at the agency (brand side) in two main ways:1. Developing and pitching any form or communications initiative under the lens of a validated story or "meta narrative"; this allows us (hopefully) to avoid media bias or a reliance on channels or even disciplines. A validated story would be one in which there is a definitive signal trail across conversational environments, all tracking back to a legit source.2. Doing what I call "audience delivery", which is essentially the ability to offer up an engaged group of participants, fans and/or enthusiasts around a particular, theme, story or idea (Mike and I discussed this the last time I was in NYC). This way, we can remove most of the assumptions around adoption or engagement and again focus on the narrative(s) instead of"what media delivers the most eyeballs" kind of thing.More on this here:http://goonth.posterous.com/brand-integration-and-multi-platform-narrativAnyway, thx for this!Best,Gunther

  4. Gunther,thanks for your comments. Having a group of dedicated people as a part of any pitch would work wonders, much like great ratings in one territory inevitably boost sales of a show in other territories. And yes, a validated story (good term btw) could be a good way to avoid the ever-present focus on platforms. I'll have a look over at your post, sounds interesting!

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