1. Unless you're submitting a forklift or an airline terminal, try whenever possible to send the actual designed object. There's just no getting around the fact that photographs are flat and untrustworthy. Not only do they mask important information but they're rotten at imparting sensory details, such as the click of a button or the dent of letterpress, which can add up to love.
2. If your submission is mechanical, make sure that you also send all batteries and cords to allow the judges to turn it on. If it's a packaged food item, keep in mind that it may sit in a stuffy box for months. If it's alcoholic, you will win the good will of the competition's organizers who will consume it later, but the judges need to keep their wits about them and will probably not be impressed.
3. Provide a clear, succinct statement of what makes your design great. Very clear. Very succinct. Judges facing heaps of entries paw through them at a furious rate, and the brilliance may not leap to the glazed-over eye.
4. If you choose to submit your design in more than one category, don't assume that the same judges will be reviewing your entry multiple times and will be bowled over by your persistence. In many cases, different judges will be assigned to different categories.
5. If, however, you submit many entries in the same category, chances are fair that the judges will be bowled over by your persistence and will not have the heart to reject everything you've sent. This is true even for blind submissions (those that cover up the designer's name to ensure that the judging remains impartial). Because no two people fill out entry forms in exactly the same way, it's easy to see when a single unidentifiable designer has sent in a flood of work.
The last time I was asked to give advice on how to work with the press, I was booed off the stage. Actually, I was denounced from the floor by an angry conference sponsor for "not being inspirational enough." And then shunned at lunch for my bad behavior.
So I take on this assignment with some trepidation.
Still, what I told the ladies at the women's small business conference I spoke at in Laguna Nigel several years ago is still true: it's not easy getting ink-stained hacks like me to pay attention to your pitch. It's not that we think we're so great, or that your work isn't brilliant. Part of the problem is just that there are so many of you, and so few of us. And, in case you haven't noticed, we're getting fewer every day.
Ease of communication, while a boon to most, is also the bane of our existence. Every day, people who sit in chairs like mine are bombarded with hundreds of emails appealing for coverage. Many are worthy, some are lame, and some are from Nigerians, who mostly want our bank account numbers.
Contrast this abundance of fodder to the shrinking real estate in our publications. As ad sales dwindle, magazine size diminishes as welland with it the amount of space we can devote to editorial coverage. The Web is betterthe real estate is vast, for examplebut in order for us to bring you a story, somebody still has to report, write, and put the sucker up in congenial code. See above, re: numbers of us.
In any case, we still want to know what's happening, and we're willing to wade through our inboxes to find the gems among the offers for penile enhancement. I can't manage to give you guidelines for that magic combination of content and timing that could lead to a story, but I can tell you what's likely to make me spike your email without a second look. And what simple things you can do to increase your chances of getting a call back.
Herewith, 10 Tips for Getting Your Pitch Through Electronic Surveillance:
1. DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, send me unsolicited files over 1MB. My inbox is already the bane of my sys admin's existence, and your file could be the straw that crashes the whole thing. If that happens, my BlackBerry's out of business, and you land on my list of pitch pariahs for all eternity.
So let's say you're a confident designer and you've got a prospective client. How do you go about convincing them to entrust their business to your skilled hands?
Obviously, sounding professional and knowledgeable is crucial, and having a reputation to back up your claims helps a lot too, but when it comes down to it, they want to see evidencesomething they can look at and immediately know you're the one who's going to make their new product a world-crusher. And that's really what we're talking about, aren't welooking. Because as much as we like to muse about Design Thinking and Innovation as abstract concepts, nothing loosens purse strings and gets contracts signed like a compelling image.
But which image to show? Even the greenest of photographers knows that there are thousands of ways to shoot an object or scene, and that the impression the image conveys depends as much on the mode of depiction as on the subject. The right shots convince folks of your competence; the wrong ones leave them scratching their heads and reaching for the next business card. Like most methods of persuasion, the key lies in the narrative: a project pitch is a story, and it needs to have a beginning, middle and end. It needs to grab a client's attention, carry them along, and leave them with an understanding they didn't have before. And believe it or not, you can do all of this with just three kinds of images.
You're probably already familiar with this sort of picture. Bold, dramatic, clean, flawless; the object as an irreproachable work of art. A good Hero Shot is a necessity for any presentation of a physical object, be it a car, a vase or skyscraper. It works like the establishing shot in cinema: it frames the story, giving a sturdy point of reference for future elaboration. It's also like the opening sentence in a good story: it grabs my attention, clears other thoughts from my mind, and convinces me that what I'm about to experience is powerful and important. Making a good one, though, is harder than it looks.
There's no doubt that a great turn on the conference stage has catapulted more than a few designers to fame. So I thought asking conference directors to divulge their proprietary secrets for selecting speakers would be like trying to get Ari Gold to move his Ferrari: You just don't ask. But as I reached out to a handful of conferences, each one was enthusiastically open to passing along some tips. In fact, when I asked Mark Hurst, director of the Gel (Good Experience Live) conference for his advice, 30 minutes later he published a full-on guide to how to become a Gel speaker. In it, he included the most salient piece of advice that should be heeded by all speaker wannabes: Just buy a ticket. "If people only are interested in Gel to get on stage, that's generally a clue to me that they're only interested in exposure and not really in Gel itself," says Hurst. Other directors agreed. Being a part of the conference community is the most direct path from audience to stage.
So say you've attended a few years, and you think you've got an idea that will be of value to the conference. First, be sure to do the legwork yourself. "Under no circumstances should you have a junior person (or worse, your PR firm) send an generic inquiry letter," says Andrew Zolli, director of PopTech. "It's disrespectful and shows that you have no interest in the subject, the organization, or anything other than self promotion. It actually hurts your cause." However, there is one major exception to having another person inquire on your behalf, says Hurst: "I pay attention to any recommendation from a past Gel speaker, or from any longtime Gel attendee."
Your pitch should arrive via emailconferences sites often have a place to submit themand be short but authentic. "We can smell a packaged, generic proposal a mile away," says Michelle Stanek, director of AIGA's upcoming Make/Think conference in Memphis this October. "If you're just trying to make the conference-speaking-circuit, move on." Stanek suggests a brief bio with a 200-word presentation description that includes why it's appropriate for the audience, as well as the takeaway, be it skills, knowledge or simply inspiration. "Be specific as to the content of the possible talk and pull out a couple of interesting factoids," suggests Zolli. "The point should be how you're going to add value to the event, not merely derive value from it."
Not a design professional yet but hoping to become one? Core77's got you covered. Check out the ultimate student guide of over 65 life hacks for design students over at our Hack2School special! Featuring guest essays from Ralph Caplan, Alice Twemlow, Jessica Helfand, Scott Klinker, Sam Montague, Jill Fehrenbacher, and others! Tips from design blog editors. Advice from design store owners. The best books, Design Romance breakup lines, How to wash your clothes in the shower (seriously), How to sound smarter in a crit. And tons and tons more!
Thanks to all the Hack2Work contributors: Carl Alviani, Emilie Baltz, Michael Bierut, Robert Blinn, Tim Brown, Victoria Brown, Christy Canida, Valerie Casey, Allan Chochinov, Stu Constantine, Liz Danzico, Katy Frankel, Fueled by Coffee, Bill Hanff, Steven Heller, Monica Khemsurov, Bob King, Joshua Klein, Julie Lasky, Eric Ludlum, Lunchbreath, Sarah Nagle, Andréa Pellegrino, Andy Polaine, Steve Portigal, Sarah Rich, Christopher Simmons, Jill Singer, Lisa Smith, Glen Jackson Taylor, Linda Tischler, Alissa Walker, Helen Walters, and Judy Wert.