How I Screwed Up My Pitch and What You Can Learn From My Colossal Error

Tomorrow is the final day of this year’s Art Biz Makeover event, and I have scheduled a special session on pitching your art that includes a panel of art world folks who are pitched to by artists all of the time.

©Lisa Cirenza, Tubers. Acrylic and oil on board, 70 x 100 centimeters. Used with permission.

©Lisa Cirenza, Tubers. Acrylic and oil on board, 70 x 100 centimeters. Used with permission.

As I was preparing for this event, I approached someone that I wanted to sit on this panel of art experts. I broke all of my rules for pitching ideas to people and couldn’t have screwed up the situation worse than I did.

Here’s how it went down in an only slightly edited, simplified version.

Me: We’ve never met, but I teach artists how to build their businesses. I’d like to stop by and introduce myself.

Other person: I don’t see how this would benefit us.

Me: Fair enough. I like to know people who work with my clients, and was going to ask you to sit on a panel featuring [persons X and Y]. I just didn’t want to ask you without meeting first. Thank you for your time.

Other person: Alyson you should explain in more depth why you care to meet with people and your business introduction. (Not edited.)

Me: My error. I apologize for wasting your time.

I was feeling all kinds of icky about the whole thing. So I decided just to drop in to this person’s business a couple of hours later to smooth things over. The person wasn’t in, so I talked with the assistant who seemed to know exactly who I was. (More ick.)

Never heard from them again, so I guess I didn’t do any good.

©Colleen Tucker, Reef’s Edge. Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 inches. Used with permission.

©Colleen Tucker, Reef’s Edge. Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 inches. Used with permission.

Here’s the thing: It was my fault. I didn’t follow the rules for introducing yourself that I share with clients.

I erred by asking for someone else’s time without showing 1) how it could be beneficial for the other person and 2) mentioning connections we had in common.

How I Should Have Delivered My Pitch

If I had been following my rules when I asked this person to sit on my panel, I would have sent an email that looked like this.

Dear X,

I’ve been admiring what you do at x. I especially enjoyed seeing y. Shows that I know about this person’s work.

Although we have never met, I’ve been in touch with [this person] who suggested I contact you. Mention person who referred by name.

[Explain my panel and event here.]

I think you would be an excellent asset to our panel (authentic flattery) and might even meet artists that you could work with in the future (benefit). If this is of interest, I invite you to check out our website at http://artbizmakeover.com. I’m also happy to drop by and introduce myself in person, although I’m sure you’re very busy (understanding that their time is valuable).

Thank you for your consideration, (a note of gratitude)

Alyson

How You Can Apply This

©Sheri Farabaugh, Rainy Day Souzhou. waiting on medium, 12 x 16 inches.

©Sheri Farabaugh, Rainy Day Souzhou. waiting on medium, 12 x 16 inches.

Follow this formula for introducing yourself to people who might benefit your art career or help you in any way.

Dear X,

Paragraph 1: Show you know the person/venue/organization. Mention anyone you have in common.

Paragraph 2: Explain why you are writing in 2-3 sentences. If you have something of value to the other person, make sure they clearly understand what you’re offering. Get to the point!

Paragraph 3: Flatter authentically, if appropriate, and acknowledge their professional stature.

Sincerely,

Y

This works because recipients have almost all of the information they need to make a decision. Don’t mess it up by writing too much or over-explaining. Long emails almost always get passed over.

I hope this formula saves you from screwing up your pitch like I did.

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47 comments to How I Screwed Up My Pitch and What You Can Learn From My Colossal Error

  • Kathleen

    Hmmm. I think that when someone responds, “I don’t see how this would benefit us,” when all you have done is introduce yourself, there is a serious issue with their attitude. I’m not surprised you were flustered, that is a bizarre reaction to a simple hello. Not every encounter in life builds a person’s business and it is strange to reject someone purely because they are not an immediate asset. Everyone is a potential customer and this level of rudeness is inexcusable.

    • I agree with you totally Kathleen, there was no need for this level of rudeness, Alyson, you’re better off without them!!

    • In my graphic design business I used to get so many calls every day from printers, photographers, illustrators, accounting firms, you name it, all of whom supplied services I used. There are thousands of them. If, after introducing themselves, they went right into asking me for a time/date they could stop by to meet me I’d immediately stop them to ask them to send me something…no way would I set aside time with that little information.

      With email, it’s now basically just rude to expect a creative person to get out of her creative flow with her work (aren’t we all behind???) to pick up the phone so you can ask for more of her time, in person, before telling her exactly what you’re offering and what you’re asking.

      We all love Alyson, but she’s right. Her second approach is much better: a short email with more details, connections, benefits. If someone’s interested, they’ll reply.

  • Hi Alyson,
    I totally agree with Kathleen’s comment, and not just because we love you! That was a rude response, and very narrow-minded. No one is (or should be) too busy to be polite.
    Although, as in everything, there is a silver lining- which is: your experience has brought you to share some awesome words of wisdom to all of us, floundering with how to approach prospective clients. I have been planning to contact several focused schools for the blind with my functional braille and art pieces. Until now, I was procrastinating because I wasn’t happy with any approach I had come up with for the letters. Your advice has helped me to figure out the best approach and now I can just get on with it! Thank you! Best wishes, Kathy

  • I agree with Kathleen. I appreciate that people lead busy lives, but to reduce every encounter to ‘what’s in it for me’ is rather mercenary. Whatever happened to appreciating the simple benefit of authentic face to face communication? Humans aren’t (meant to be) vending machines… and most worthwhile conversations can not be reduced to a list of bullet points!

  • I have to say my eyebrows lowered and other muscles in my face contorted after reading your post. It wasn’t what you said, but the other person’s reaction. Apparently this person is someone considered to be an art expert otherwise you wouldn’t have considered them to be on your panel. True, you could have presented your introduction differently as you said and maybe it would have went differently, but professionalism works both ways. I’m now wondering about the shape of this persons nose. Is it so upturned that if they wore a hat and sneezed they’d blow it off? Is rudeness professional? If someone approached me with some request and I didn’t understand the benefit, I would have asked questions and not cut them off. I’m wondering what kind of advice they would have given on your panel? Nobody how much they would like, is at the top of their game all the time even if their an expert in their field.
    My equation:
    Expert plus rudeness equals 🙁
    Expert plus humility equals 🙂

    • Perhaps something more gracious on his/her part would have been: “What you do sounds very interesting. As you know, running a gallery is a lot of hard work and extra hours. Could you tell me how we might be able to work together? ”

      ??

  • Alyson, I agree with Kathleen. Your potential panelist seems to have no sense of curiosity…which in itself is curious. I doubt someone like that would be of any value on any panel. So if you made a made a mistake at all, (and I don’t believe you did) it was considering him/her in the first place.

  • I appreciate your candid approach offering advise while using yourself as an example (courageous and humble). But like the others who commented, I don’t think “colossal” is an appropriate adjective for this particular story considering the other party involved. Two excellent TED speakers come to mind for this situation: Brené Brown (both her talks) and Amanda Palmer. The first speaker touches those tender places we experience before, during and especially after an experience like the one you described and the second speaker is all about “The Art of Asking.”
    Thank-you for sharing Alyson!

  • THanks for the inspiration for my own blog post. For years, I have been urging applicants, networkers and business developers to show that they know the employer’s business and industry AND that they can bring some helpful solutions to the employer’s problems.
    http://www.susangainenartist.com/passthebaton/2014/11/06/applicants-know-employers-business-industry/

  • Not your fault…Not your fault…Some people are nice…Some people are mean…No matter how you flub an introduction to a nice person, it all works out ok…With a mean person, it doesn’t matter if you were perfect, it still screws up…I see this weird egotism once in a while, well quite rarely actually, where someone thinks their art or work is so good, they have the right to be mean…But time & time again, I am pleasantly surprised to find the people at the very top of the ladder are there because they are the nicest…I have also found that nice people really irk the men ones more…Case in point…

  • Typo above, “men” should be “mean”…(Hope that was not Freudian!)

  • Thank you so much for your post. Although I am stunned, along with the others, by the rudeness of your potential panelist. It is so useful to know how to correctly approach busy people who are frequently inundated with similar requests. It is always valuable to know how to put our best foot forward…hopefully in the door!

  • Alysin presented a “slightly-edited, simplified version” of the conversation. Before jumping to conclusions about attitudes, it would be good to know the full, unedited version.

  • I had the same reaction as others. That person’s response was rude! But I do appreciate your advice on how best to approach someone. And it is comforting to know that in the heat of the moment and the urgency to get something done, you don’t always follow your own good advice!

  • Thanks for this post. We do love you Alyson and I understand why everyone wants to jump to your defense in the way this went down, but I only want to applaud you for looking at it from a rational learning perspective. I also love your vulnerability here in sharing with us what you perceive as a mistake and how you could have done it better. Great post and we should all try to feel this grown up and analytical next time we get a cold shoulder.

  • Hi Alyson,

    Poof… The bottom link

    It reminded me it’s about building relationships before you ask anyone to do something or otherwise enter into any business relationship.

    As you say you got it wrong, surprisingly for you, this time.

  • Sarah Horowitz

    Thank you for the advice on making a good pitch. I don’t necessarily agree with the above comments that that person was rude or mean, just abrupt. I have dealt with lots of people that are extremely busy (read: curators in New York). They just don’t have time to be sweet. I’ve found myself in the same position. It’s challenging when making a pitch but it’s not personal either, especially when one is bombarded by requests all the time. I appreciate your well thought out, rational reflections that you’ve passed on to us.

  • I add my name to the list who agreed with Kathleen’s comment. As an artist in SALES for decades, it takes real courage to approach a stranger to introduce yourself and ask a few questions. You were polite so there was no reason for this person(s) to be so rude. It is so ironic when the whole world embraces the need to network and when a person tries to network they get shut down. This is ridiculous and this groups arrogance will backfire someday. We are ALL BUSY, it is a way of the world and if you can’t speak to someone at that time, take down their number or email or suggest you call them back at a later date.
    Allison new approach is very good but with these types of,people she may have received the same mean treatment.
    good to cut your loses and move on.

  • Alyson, I think you’re brilliant. I’ve been following you off and on for a long time and I think 99.9% of the time you’re right on the money. THIS time I think the problem wasn’t you, and sometimes you are just better off to chalk it up to HER problem and walk away. You’ve got better and more interesting people to spend your time with. And… maybe giving her an excuse – we don’t know that her mother isn’t due to come off life support, her husband/partner didn’t just tell her he/she was leaving her, or her child isn’t battling a horrific medical issue. We don’t know why she was rude. But maybe someday when her life is straightened out she’ll seek you out. Or not. Move ON girl!

  • This person did sound like they had an attitude problem for sure. To me, it’s a red flag when I run into that and I consider it a good thing if it doesn’t work out.

    The good part is you weren’t knocked down by it and made it into a learning experience. It never can hurt to re-sharpen and re-look how we are doing things… Just may help open a door later down the road that wasn’t expected. It is worth putting your best foot forward… It pays off!

  • Irma

    Alyson, you are simply human! It shows that even a brilliant, accomplished, energetic professional can run into a situation like this. In the end it is not what was said, on either side, but how we deal with it. Thank you for sharing this experience, I know I learned something.

  • KR

    But why did she get defensive right away? Did she think you were going to try to tell her how to run her business?? As if she didn’t know how . Sigh…people take a lot of fluffing up don’t they.

  • Uh, I’ve actually been that other person. Most of the time I respond kindly when other artists ask me for advice because I know that it took an effort for them to ask. But every once in a while, especially when I’m harried with deadlines, I feel like my time isn’t being recognized and that I’m being used to advance someone else’s career, business, agenda or practice without any recognition that I’ve got needs, too. Politicians, real estate agents, architects, wedding videographers — pretty much anyone in any other profession — understands the favor economy. Artists, not so much. Figure out a way to give back to people you’re asking for a favor, especially other artists. Or better yet, pay them for their time.

    • Carl Wright

      I agree with Lynn. I get enough of people pushing clamoring for some of my time or sculpture with no thought of how I might be interested. It is wonderful that they are interested, now how can we make this a two-way conversation.

      The other problem you had Allyson is that you went to a “cold” call. The intro email would have been much better way to handle this.

      Have to admit that when one is excited about a project it is often difficult to curb your enthusiasm & get the intros into the right order.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Lynn.

  • Very brave of you Alyson to show your goof up and so helpful to us to hear how to do it better! However,I agree with everyone who said the person approached was rude and abrupt. I’ve lived in New York so I know how busy and fast paced life can be in some places, but I don’t think there is any reason EVER to come across to people as if your time is more valuable than theirs. If life is so busy, hectic and fast paced that you can justify abandoning basic civility, I don’t want to be a part of your world no matter what the anticipated benefit.

  • I’ve learned some of my most helpful lessons from people who have been very to the point (a euphemism). So thank you for sharing this one, despite the uncomfortable encounter. Certainly she could have eased that situation and still informed you of what was missing for her. But she didn’t, and we’re the wiser for it!

  • Thank you everyone for being so generous to me.

    I didn’t write this for sympathy or empathy. I truly believe that I messed it up and missed out on a possible interesting relationship.

  • Ian

    I appreciate you sharing a real world example. It’s not always easy when you don’t come out looking like a winner. Of course, your example makes us all the better.

    Thanks for the insight.

    Ian.

  • Thya Merz

    I second Ian’s appreciation. It is good to be reminded that regardless of our expertise we need to continue to be thoughtful and fully present in our business practices

    • It is good to be thoughtful, but it is also good to be tolerant. Not everyone has had the privilege of attending finishing school, and many who lack the skills to charm and impress are genuine, well intended individuals with something of value to offer.

  • Rebekah Tesone

    As I read this email I was perplexed and read the encounter several times. Yes I understand the version of the do over on the right approach which you obviously have thought threw. (Thanks for the lesson) I for one also have overly jumped on sales people at times and have felt horrible afterwards. They have interrupted me when I was in a bad place. After they left I felt bad. It seems as if you still care because of living in similar areas. All personalities are different in responding and response’s. At this point I would write a note and apologize and know you offered the branch of peace and let it go. Then wonder if she saw this post! 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing this Alyson! We all get really busy and it’s easy to forget these things sometimes. I appreciate all the great information that you always give us!

  • Martha Farias

    Looking at this drawing i can see how the mood can go from confusion to sadness, looks like the artist was going for a variety of colors to make the people look as different from each other as possible. Although you can see all the different diversities in this painting they also share the same facial expression. im not sure if the artist was going for a sad mood or if the colors and patterns in the peoples faces just demonstrate the appearance of sadness. Other then those confusions color tones. i love how the artist shows a person in every different color. She also emphasizes the different races and cultures. Which is white amazing. This picture shows how cultures come together and all though we are different in skin tone, we can all definitely portrait the same face expressions. Something else that caught my attention when looking at this painting was how the artist used people of all ages. You can see the elderly and the younger generations mixed together. Which also makes the painting quite interesting when looked from that perspective of age combinations.

  • JR

    Seems the other person was defensive because you teach artists how to market themselves and how to best deal with galleries and marketplaces, as that was the only information you had volunteered at that time. Perhaps that tells you something about how this gallery owner (or whomever) treats artists if he/she was threatened and, in turn, rude.

  • It’s hard to comment without knowing exactly what you edited out of the first conversation, but though the “what’s in it for us” response is both rude and off-putting, I wonder why you didn’t answer the implied question. How WOULD your project benefit the gallery? And then you got another opening when she (he?) told you you needed to explain more — I think it would have been appropriate to respond with “I’m sorry, you’re right; here’s more detail…” especially in an email exchange. They don’t have to read it. On the phone you could say something like “I’m sorry, you’re right; I know you are busy but if you are interested I could send you an email with the details”. Either you get shut down or you get a chance to salvage the situation. Even if you don’t win this time, by acknowledging their response and addressing the deficit in your pitch, you may preserve the relationship for the next time. Despite what they say about first impressions, it’s been my experience that most people are in fact quite civilized.

    The message I’m taking away here is obviously to introduce my project up front, but also to be prepared with a response should the person I’m speaking to respond negatively or I realize that my approach has been clumsy. A door left open — however snarkily — is still a door.

  • This is such a super helpful blog post! I have a question though…would a handwritten note be even better than an email if time allowed? I worry that emails get automatically tossed into the spam folder.

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