Jess Bracey – presenter on Radio Winchcombe and BBC Introducing in the West – attended our training session on freelance pitching in Bristol back in June. She shares her thoughts on the training session.
The first rule of freelance; there is no hyphen in freelance – top tip there from managing director of Whistledown Productions David Prest who knows all too well about the world of freelance, both from the inside and out. Just one of the many golden nuggets of knowledge given for free at the Bristol Freelance Pitching and Audio Format Workshop which saw a dozen women across a plethora of media backgrounds congregate. A day that held answers to the question that all freelance audio producers want answered in plain English; how do you pitch your ideas in a way that will get them commissioned and on air?
For me, delving into this workshop couldn’t come at a more timely point in my professional career as that very week I took the plunge and went freelance. After being a full-time features writer for a magazine for the past two and a half years – while persisting with community radio and BBC Introducing in my spare time – I knew that radio was my real passion, knew that now was the right time to bite the bullet to go full throttle into the industry, and knew that it wasn’t going to be easy so needed advice.
… this wasn’t the type of workshop that meant sitting in front of a power point presentation for hours on end, oh no.
Entering BBC Bristol for the workshop – which in itself is inspiration enough when thinking of the history of audio produced between those walls – I gathered with a whole host of sound women from veterans in the industry who wanted to brush up on their skills to females in community radio, BBC broadcasters, print journalists, oh and a mini sound women too in the form of eight week old Suki. We sat, we mingled, we were given the schedule for the day and then soon realised that this wasn’t the type of workshop that meant sitting in front of a power point presentation for hours on end, oh no. Just like method acting, if you’re not in the mind set of the character how will you really learn, and that was exactly the thinking behind the front women of the workshop Rosie Bartlett and Natasha Maw. Yes there were presentations, and multi-media ones at that, filled with quizzes, interactions and of course sound bites – we are audio geeks after all. But the biggest lesson of all, as the title entails, was how to pitch.
After getting into groups of two or three and agreeing on an audio format – whether a programme, feature, series or documentary – our audio themes came to life with stories, insights, facts, soundscapes, online content and ways to make an idea for radio whizzy and worth listening too. We needed to think of a killer line to make it sellable right from the start and keep a potential commissioner hooked right to the very end when they’ll slap down that contract and sign up you and your idea. Being a freelancer is all about being an ideas person, and in the short space of a few hours a whole host of ideas came to the stage. From the discussion of community and benches to the Severn Boar, a shared first time experience at Glastonbury festival to learning an old-age skill from YouTube, each idea was pitched to a ‘panel’ that are used to being on thereceiving end of hearing commissions. From left to right we had:
- Rosie Bartlett – Sound Woman and Training and Communications Consultant
- David Prest – Managing Director at Whistledown
- Clare McGinn – Head of Production for BBC National Radio in Bristol
Through five minute elevator pitches each – that was one monumental lift we were stranded in – our pitches were picked apart in terms of idea, presentation style and most importantly how to build upon the idea to a point where they could generally be commissioned. A very beneficial task indeed we all had to undertake – especially when thrown in at the deep end. From a newbie point of view, radio is about sitting in a padded room speaking into a microphone, but the thought of having to talk to actual people staring into your soul searching for that golden opportunity to take on your idea, was a completely different experience and one we all benefitted from. It really did feel like we were back at school again doing show and tell.
Amidst the stuttering and pre-pitch jitters we were also given words of wisdom from speakers David Prest from Whistledown Productstions and also Kirsten Lass, Senior Producer for BBC Bristol, who surprisingly presented different view points to pitching ideas as a freelancer. As well as that we heard vital information from Rosie Bartlett about editorial policy that ensures you don’t get the wrong end of the stick and don’t get sued.
But if we were to collaborate all the power points and pressing questions into ten top tips for pitching audio for commission, whether to an indie or BBC, then it’ll be worth noting these down:
– Be creative with your idea. No matter how dull you think the subject is, there are so many opportunities to make it brilliant depending on who you talk to and how you create the atmosphere through sound.
– When pitching, know why it’s the right time to put forward your idea and who would be best to present the programme. For example, if the piece is focused on World War One now is the perfect time for broadcast because of the centenary anniversary and a great person to present the audio on air would be historian and broadcaster Dan Snow.
– Know your audience. There’s no use in pitching an idea to a station, show or production company if you have no idea about their back catalogue. Show that you know your stuff to really wow them.
– A very important tip is to know who you are pitching to. Show that you have done your research by getting in touch with the right person in production.
– It’s your pitch, you decide on where to pitch your audio idea. Rather than meeting in their office, show initiative and take them out for coffee to share your idea. This shows that you’re in control, but is also in a more mutual environment that can put you at ease.
– Your contacts, experience and knowledge goes further than you think when pitching. If you’re enthusiastic about the subject you are pitching, then having this passion behind you will shine.
– Show why you are worth investing in over the guy – or in this case sound girl – before you. With budgets getting tighter and tighter you need to stand out. Whether that’s from specialist knowledge, prior experience, etc.
– Sell on the benefits, not the features. Why would someone want to listen to your piece of audio?
– Know editorial policy and media law – not knowing about libel, copyright, etc, will bite you on the bottom if you don’t know when it’s not ok to use an image that isn’t yours or your piece of audio has potential to defame another individual.
– And finally, don’t be so blooming British. It’s something many of us do because we worry that we’re going to put a commissioner off by annoying them with emails and phone calls. Once you’ve done your pitch, wait a few days and then follow up to see if there are any developments in the pitch. They’re busy people, so polite persistence is key.
Jess Bracey has co-presented with Phill Jupitus on Nerve Radio and is now a presenter on Radio Winchcombe. She can be heard every week on BBC Introducing in the West and is launching her own online radio platform Bus Stop Radio in the Cotswolds.