5 mistakes to avoid when you pitch a creative idea

by Manojna Yeluri

Whether you’re looking to re-imagine an existing concept, or introduce something completely new, we know that the process of streamlining an idea is not a simple one. Translating an idea or proposal into a functioning project isn’t for the impatient, and often implies multiple conversations with other creative professionals and investors.

It’s easy to get caught up in these conversations, and risk making a few blunders that might carry a heavy legal and business cost in the future. So to avoid creating additional stress, we’ve rounded up five mistakes that artists and creative professionals can avoid when making that all important pitch.

  1. Don’t just pitch – Anchor your idea with a concept note or proposal

    Did you know that it’s legally impossible to accuse someone of stealing an idea? That’s because ideas are not protected under law – it’s their expression that can be protected. We’ve covered this in greater detail in an earlier post, but please remember that intellectual property rights like copyright, only extend to ideas that have been translated into some kind of tangible, fixed medium. For instance, if you’re interested in producing a music festival in the great outdoors, complete with a novel camping experience and esoteric beverage options, you ought to make sure that you’ve created some kind of concept note or presentation pitch to go with it. This note or presentation also has to capture the elements that make your project yours – why do you want to organize this festival? What kind of line up do you have in mind? Is there a particular space you’re looking to partner with, and if so, why? The more specific the note, the easier it gets to prove that you’ve begun translating the idea into an expression of some kind.

  2. Don’t ignore email correspondence as a way to capture the major points of your discussions 

    The entertainment industry is notoriously famous for napkin deals and verbal agreements. That notoriety definitely finds place in the world of the independent and alternative arts as well. Using email as a way to consolidate and confirm the points you’ve discussed with a potential client, investor or partner, is a great way to make sure that everyone knows what they’re agreeing to. It also helps provide a clear chain of thought to everyone involved, including a lawyer when you ask them to draw up the paper work. Remember that each side can have its own legal team, and it’s up to you, to look out for your best interests. If you agreed to partner with a brand to create bespoke art work for a specific product line, make sure that even though you’re still in the middle of discussions with each other, it doesn’t hurt to follow up every meeting with an email synopsis. Never dismiss the value of email correspondence.

  3. Don’t shy away from using non-disclosure agreements 

    We often meet musicians, artists and performers who get back to us with stories of how they had a great first set of meetings with a brand or venue, only to realize that they’ve chosen to work out the same side, but with another creative team. The catch is that the brand or venue now states that they had either already been developing the same idea for some time, pre-dating the meetings or that they have completely redeveloped the idea, and that any resemblance it bears is just a co-incidence. Unfortuanely, power dynamics play a big role especially in meetings with bigger brands or powerful parties. A smart way to work around these dynamics, is to put up a brave face by informing the other side that you are aware of your rights, and would like all your pitch discussions, protected through a non-disclosure agreement. We admit, that this can sometimes be a tough sell to make but in our experience, we find that artists who offer this as an option, do get treated more professionally.

  4. Don’t overshare confidential information from previous projects or clients 

    Working on a new project might require referencing older projects and relationships, however please don’t make the mistake of divulging information that is potentially sensitive or downright confidential. It’s best to share information on the bits that you’ve worked on, but make no mistake that oversharing information about your previous projects or clients, will attract undue trouble. For instance, sharing your fee expectations makes perfect sense, but avoid discussing the reasons behind any budget constraints from a previous client. Information always has a way of being traced back (especially if it’s negative or sensitive), and you could be in violation of confidentiality clauses or be deemed highly unprofessional. If what you say is something that is hurtful to someone or their company’s reputation, you could even be held liable for defamation.

  5. Never leave the room without a clear set of terms, even for the near futureWhen it’s time to shake hands and leave the room, do so with the expectation that you will capture this meeting’s points in an email correspondence, and if necessary a succinct set of terms and conditions. Perhaps you don’t require a full blown agreement, but maybe a simple memorandum of understanding can help keep things professional, until everyone is ready to take the discussion to the next level. Plans can change at any time, and a host of reasons might cause a cancellation of a project mid way through progress. It’s best to have something to protect your rights at a time like that, even if it was just meant for the initial phase of the project.

We hope you find these suggestions helpful, and would love to add to the list with your own pointers. You can always leave us a comment below or contact us with your additions or any other queries you might have. Be sure to check out our other articles in our ‘Growth & Planning‘ series. Happy pitching!  

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