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How to pitch for design work, and win it

Computer Arts: Can pitching be avoided?
Michael Johnson:
Pitching is a necessary evil. Even phenomenally brilliant people can go through fallow periods where they have to stick things in a portfolio and go and see people. The days of people just ringing and saying you’re the man for the job might return, but I can’t remember the last time it happened. If it’s over a certain figure – say £10k – most firms have to tender.

CA: Do you have a set approach when pitching for potential jobs?
MJ: Before, when we got a sniff of a large project, we would put a lot of time and effort into it, and our hit rate used to be 50/50. Now, about half of it is written for the presentation and the rest is culled from previous presentations. But that still takes a couple of days.

CA: At what stage do you start showing work?
MJ: We might spend six months digging, talking and discussing. In essence you’re trying to start in the right place. In the first meetings you’ve got to persuade them you can do the project without showing them any pitches. If you start showing them logos in the first meeting you’re dead.

CA: How do you find the jobs to pitch for?
Occasionally we get people tipping us off, and we have various strategic partners. To be honest, the best kind of design business is referral business.

CA: Do you like to know who you are up against?
I used to get obsessed with who I was pitching against. The downside of that is that you start to second-guess how they would approach their presentation. You need to be like Arsenal Football Club. Arsenal will play like Arsenal – they won’t change the way they play depending on who they’re up against.

Illustration: Radim Malinic, aka Brand Nu, Computer Arts issue 176