pitching to stores for beginners

Here’s What Makers Get Wrong About Pitch Emails

Almost everyone overlooks this advantage

Clare: Let’s begin with a question. Do you have a pitch email that’s actively getting you orders from stores? Just a simple “yes” or “no” – do you have a basic pitch email in your toolkit that reliably gets you orders when you approach shops about your work? Scribble your answer down. And then let’s look at the biggest lesson of this class.

Anthony: Really?

Clare: Yeah.

Anthony: We’re just going to go there?

Clare: We are. This is something that we’re going to talk about a lot so why not start now? Alright. If you only take one thing away from this workshop on pitch emails, this should be it.

Anthony: Shave the puffin.

Clare: Yes.


Clare: Do you need a little more explanation?

Anthony: I might, yes.

Clare: Okay, well to do that let’s just forget pitching for a second and talk about branding. What I’ve drawn for you here is the milk aisle in a supermarket.

Anthony: Oh, okay that’s what I’m looking at there is it?

Clare: Those are the milk cartons.

Anthony: Right.

Clare: So there’s dairy milk, soya milk, coconut, almond. You can really buy a lot of different kinds of milk these days.

Anthony: You can.

Clare: The choice is frankly mind boggling. And with choice comes decision and indecision. All of these cartons contain some kind of milk. If you want something to pour on your cornflakes you’re in the right aisle, but how do you choose one carton over another when they all look more or less the same?

Anthony: I know this feeling. Your brain short circuits because there are too many to choose from and they’re practically identical.

Clare: Exactly. Which means milk companies must try to give you a reason to choose their brand instead of their competitors’. And to do that, they rely on things like bottle design, label design and advertising. In other words, they try to tell you why you should buy their milk through branding – by attaching desirable ideas to their product. It’s exactly the same with cars, toothpaste and biscuits. That’s what we call cookies in Britain.

Anthony: Okay.

Clare: So when a product becomes ubiquitous, that is when there are hundreds of versions of that product and they all look the same, branding has to step in to help us make decisions.

Anthony: I see.

Clare: Here’s Michael Johnson summing up this idea.

Anthony: Wow, Michael Johnson, not only can he run a 400 metres in world record time, he knows about branding too. What a chap.

Clare: We’re talking about this because indie retailers receive a huge number of pitch emails. For us, they as ubiquitous as milk in the supermarket. We have enormous choice at our fingertips and almost all of those pitches are more or less identical. So if you’re a creative person who wants to get an order from a store, you need a way to stand out – and how to do that is what we’re talking about in this little class.

Now, I want to show you a special kind of graph in a second, so I’ve made this one give you a practice and let you get used to how it works. It’s got this double axis. Can you see what’s happening here?

Anthony: Yeah, I think so. So you’ve got the up and down axis showing what you like and what you don’t like. The horizontal axis is showing the spectrum from not very expensive to extremely expensive. So over here… basically this tells me, for example that you really like Ringtons Tea.

Clare: I do.

Anthony: It’s up in the top left there and it doesn’t cost a lot. We’ve also got Game, which sells computer games, on there which is middle range price wise but you really hate it.

Clare: I do hate Game. We could do a whole workshop on why I hate Game.

Anthony: It would be long workshop. But moving on, up in the top corner there is Le Labo, now I know that they sell very expensive perfume and candles.

Clare: They do.

Anthony: And you seem to really, really like that. So I should probably be worried about that shouldn’t I?

Clare: Well maybe. It depends on whether or not you want your house to smell like a fancy hotel.

Anthony: I kind of do want that.

Clare: Yes. So you get this double axis thing, right?

Anthony: Yes.

Clare: So, here’s the same kind of graph but this time we are tracking the way most artists approach pitch emails, in my experience.

Anthony: Okay.

Clare: So on the up and down axis we are seeing how personal or impersonal the pitch is. This axis is basically measuring how human the pitch email is, whether it seems like it was written by a real person, to another real person, or not.

Anthony: Okay.

Clare: And on the horizontal axis we are tracking our response from saying, “no” or ignoring the pitch completely, all the way to “Yes, absolutely, here’s my order, please take my money.” So what we can say is that no one, no artist, wants to be on the far left side of the graph.

Anthony: No.

Clare: In that “no” section. Ten years of working with creative people on pitches, and twenty years of being creative people ourselves, working as actors, have taught us that much.

Anthony: Yes. That seems reasonable. No one wants to hear “no.”

Clare: Yeah, and on the right side we can see that most artists are very focused on getting to the “yes.” They’re generally not thinking too hard about how personal or impersonal their pitch email is.

Anthony: Right. That’s a secondary consideration to most of them.

Clare: Yes, most artists fall in the middle on the personal or impersonal scale. That’s not what’s most on their minds. The major goal for most artists is getting to the “yes.”

Anthony: Yeah, okay.

Clare: Good. So these are the general trends I’ve observed over the last decade. Now let’s how they played out in our own inbox at Merry + Bright last year. So this time … well, can you tell me what you see?

Anthony: Okay. So these are real pitch emails that we received and obviously it’s not all of them.

Clare: No, there would have been a lot more crosses.

Anthony: Yeah, so you’re just tracking a sample.

Clare: Yeah.

Anthony: Well, let me see. Okay, so most of the crosses are in the bottom left hand corner. These are pitches that were very impersonal and we said “no” or unfortunately ignored them. It does happen.

Clare: It does, I’m afraid.

Anthony: We also said no to a few mildly personal ones, and then on the other side we can see pitches that were personal and that we liked a lot. We were pretty close to saying “yes” to these ones. But what are the little blue ones at the top?

Clare: The blue ones represent the pitches that we actually did say “yes” to. So apart from getting us to spend money on their stuff, what do all those blue cross artists have in common?

Anthony: They are all very personal indeed.

Clare: Exactly. So a moment ago we saw how pitch emails are ubiquitous for indie retailers, they are everywhere. They just keep coming. So if you want to sell to shops and boutiques and galleries, if you want to stand out and have a chance of receiving an order from a store, you need an edge, a point of difference. Like Michael Johnson said.

Anthony: Yes, you need to give those retailers a reason to notice you.

Clare: Absolutely. And what made the difference for these blue cross suppliers was being personal. They talked to us as living, breathing human beings, and they showed themselves to be human too. They had great products of course, but being personal is what clinched it for them.

Anthony: Okay. And if we think back to the last graph, which showed the approach most artists take, we saw they didn’t prioritise being personal at all.

Clare: Yep. Artists think being personal in pitch emails isn’t important when it’s actually essential.

Anthony: So join us in part two when we’ll go in depth on how to use this idea when you approach stores.

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