TAKEAWAY: This is part 14 of my occasional series 40 Years/40 Lessons, which I call a “sort of career memoir” capturing highlights and reminiscing about what has been a spectacular journey for me, doing what I love most. Today’s segment: pitching that job.
Illustration by Ana Lense Larrauri/The Miami Herald
It is all about competition in this country, my uncle Hector, the barber, told me the second day I had arrived in the United States in 1962. But, my Tio Kiko, as we in the family referred to him, added: this is the place where you compete for everything, and if you are good you make it.
You see, Tio Kiko was a barber by day but played a mean trumpet in those Miami Beach nightclubs of another era by night. Think
%0A" title="The Mambo Kings">The Mambo Kings and you would see Tio Kiko with those funny shirts popular with Latin bands of the 1950s, a flurry of tule ballooning out of each shoulder. Kiko was a real star, the one doing the solo when the time came for the trumpet to shine. He would then lift the trumpet as high as his forehead, so nobody in the audience would miss him and the sounds of his instrument.
Tio Kiko not only had the right pitch when he played those cha chas in his trumpet.
But to hear him say it: he had to pitch (audition they call in show biz) for every gig. On days when he had an audition, he would leave the barbershop earlier, leaving his compadre Pablo (the one with the dyed jet black hair and a cigar bigger than Kiko’s trumpet) in charge. Off he would venture into that Miami Beach that no longer exists where the average age of a snowbird was about 65—-when 65 was triuly 65, I may add! But I would accompany Tio Kiko to some of his gigs, and was always fascinated by how American octogenarians would try to do the cha cha. I found it funny and it is too bad we did not have iPhones with cameras then.
“You have to try for every gig,“ Tio Kiko would say. “Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t”.
What great lessons from Tio Kiko.
In this business of ours, we do a lot of pitching too.
But it was not always that way. In the early days of “newspaper design” as a discipline that consultants were hired to execute (late 1970s), a publisher would decide to do a redesign, and he/she already had an idea of which newspaper design guru he wanted to utilize—-not that there were as many as today.
For the first time of my career as a consultant I thought Tio Kiko did not have it right, no competition for newspaper design consultants. Perhaps in the world of musicians and actors, but not for us in newspaper design.
But, oh, all of that changed dramatically as more newspaper design consultants set up shop——many of them the same students we had trained at colleges, universities or at places like API or Poynter.
Good thing. This is America, land where competition thrives, and the best person wins. Tio Kiko had it right.
But with each pitch comes anxiety, fear, the nervous stomach, the night before with little sleep for some, and, of course, that big red sign we all hate to see in front of our faces: rejection.
And not all pitches are the same.
Some pitches require that we come armed with about 10 pages of how we would proceed to design this particular publication. Usually a fee is charged for that, but one always wonders if any of the ideas stay in the background for “future referrals”.
Other pitches are cold as last week in Helsinki for me: you arrive, you show the best of…….you (hard to make those choices, but remember, FIVE pieces is better than 50), but what to include, what to edit out. In my view: you study the potential client, examine his needs, and, see where your portfolio meets their expectations. And, please, beware of cultural differences: don’t drag your portfolio pieces with the bikini girls and the male models showing bare chests if you are in a country where such things are a no no. Common sense and portfolio preparation go together.
During the pitch
So now the day arrives and you are there, ready to show these people that nobody does it like you, and that they would be absolutely wrong and disappointed if they went with anyone but the one and only. Of course, you don’t say any of this directly. You infer it. Your portfolio pieces suggest it. And you tell them how you work, how you like people, and like you believe in collaborations. If you are not serious about these qualities, you should not be pitching, anyway.
I confess that I have never felt anxiety or lost sleep over a pitch. I prepare. Period. You prepare as if it was the first time any of these people would see you or hear you. You don’t rest on your laurels, which can be bloody thorny when trusted too seriously. There will always be people judging you in this gathering who have heard soooooooooooooooo much about you, and think you are a legend, and even a guru. Nonsense. A pitch is where you pretend that this is your first presentation. It has always helped me to work better at it.
A pitch is NOT the moment to push the automatic pilot button.
Very important: the last sentence before you leave the room is key. It stays with these people who have the ability to determine your destiny, at least momentarily.
Leave smiling. Remind them that NOBODY who they go with, their publication is right in seeking help, going for a rethinking, and that you, of course, would be honored to join them in their journey.
Finally, the news of the pitch
Tip after you leave the pitch session: don’t go counting days until you hear from the possible client.
Go about your business, put the pitch behind you and be proud of what you did to secure the job, but don’t go on overdrive about it (easier said than done, especially with some jobs we really want).
Then the phone rings. The first sentence from the spokesperson in charge of delivering the verdict says it all:
If they say: We have been so honored that you joined us for this pitch.…… (kiss of death: nice to have seen you, but we picked another consultant).
If they say: This was not an easy decision for us…. (same thing put differently: they belabor the point that you and someone else were the finalists, but only one could be picked, and you already know it was not you; as honored as you may be to have placed a closed second, you ain’t it , kid…..)
Try telling the first runner up in the Miss Universe contest that she was close to winning. She is returning to the Ukraine, while Miss Venezuela gets a luxurious pad in New York City from where she shutters around the world.
And, of course, the nice clients CALL you. There are those whose mothers did not teach them good manners, and they never call you to give you the results of their verdict. You are dead meat. You are not important. In those cases, you hear who the winner is thru the rumor mills, or read it in a blog (gasp). There is no excuse for this type of behavior.
One usually loses to a worthy competitor who is probably going to do a great job, so I normally send a note to the client that wasn’t to tell him that, indeed, they are in good hands.
After that, take 24 hours to study what went wrong (was it the color of that rosé tie I wore)? Then, move on to your next project, plan the next pitch, and don’t dwell on what could have been.
And, you know, sometimes you get that project later, on the rebound.
Don’t be too proud! Just get your trumpet out of its case, aim it to the skies, and get ready for your solo, the way Tio Kiko always did.
Let the cha cha begin.
TheMarioBlog post #746