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March 5th, 2009

How to perfect your pitch

Posted by Lou Lesko

©Lou Lesko

©Lou Lesko

When I made my first TV pitch, I was less than a nobody in Hollywood. I was able to get a meeting with a TV somebody only through the help of another huge Hollywood somebody. The Bravo Channel producer, who had a reputation for deciding the fate of a project based entirely on the pitch meeting, granted me ten minutes of her time. The advice I received from other industry veterans was to practice my spiel, tighten it up, and practice it again. Producers at this level hear so many pitches, I would only have sixty seconds to grab her attention. In spite of the confidence I gained from hours of practice, at the end of the meeting I had two puddles in my jeans pockets where the sweat dripping from my armpits had pooled. My pitch propelled the project to the next level, but it ultimately didn’t make it. I didn’t mind. I had learned one of the most valuable lessons of my career. Being able to deliver an effective pitch is as important to your business as knowing how to make an image.

Photography is an industry of cold callers and connection hounds. Even with a solid introduction to a heavy weight advertising person from your brother’s, cousin’s, ex-girlfriend’s cell mate, you need to make a solid, swift impression with your first contact. A pitch. Doing so requires that you take a few minutes to prepare.

Email is the easiest. You can write, read, edit, read, and edit some more. Yes. Edit that much. Also, if you’re thinking about employing a grammar school business letter model, they are totally outmoded. Consider the following:

Dear Super Heavyweight Person who could get me a high-paying gig,

I’d like to introduce myself, my name is Lou Lesko. As you may have heard from our mutual friend, Miki Johnson, I am calling on you in the hopes of setting up a meeting to show you my portfolio. I’ve been a photographer for 25 years with extensive experience in the fashion and lifestyle genres. I feel confident that I would be a valuable consideration for any future jobs at your agency, and I am ready to meet you at your earliest convenience at a location of your choosing.

Contrast that to:

Dear Super Heavyweight Person who could get me a high-paying gig,

Our mutual friend, Miki Johnson, let me know that it would not be a problem to contact you to set a meeting to show you my portfolio. I appreciate you offering your time. Please let me know the earliest date and a location that is convenient for you; I will make myself available. In the meantime, some of my work and my career background can be found on:

The first example isn’t bad, but it’s about as dry as a Saltine cracker on a hungover morning. The second one is a bit more in your face, but it identifies in the first sentence the individual we both know and the reason why I’m exploiting the friendship. The rest shows that I’m reasonably polite and accommodating, but if the reader skipped reading the rest of the email, they would still know exactly what I want and why I feel justified in asking. And that is the pitch.

Leaving a voicemail requires the same pitch-style communication. Articulate why you’re calling in the first sentence, followed immediately by your contact info. A person you don’t know that’s listening to your message will not want to drudge through a long drawn out treatise about “how great it is you know the same person and, wow, we’re both in the same industry and, boy, I could sure use a shot at that new account your agency just won.” Conversely that first sentence can’t be a brash assault on the recipient’s voicemail, and should have a dash of your personality. Unless you’re an ass. Then fake it.

In pitch situations, when I’m a bit nervous, I have a dreadful propensity to mumble. To avoid doing that, I leave a few practice messages on my own voicemail. I know it sounds a bit like a high school boy practicing a speech to get a date with a girl, but it is totally effective in polishing my pitch.

The same tactics will also prepare you for the contingency of (oh my gosh) the person picking up the phone when you call. I’m not saying you should be as disengaged as you would if you were leave a voicemail, but having taken the time practice will put you a in a great position to start a great conversation that could lead to more work.

One last tip. If you’re sending a web link in an email, test it first by sending the email to yourself. One of the most common mistakes is to place a period at the end of a link because it closes a sentence like this: And you can see my articles on

The period at the end of the sentence will make the link fail. That’s why in my example above I put the link on its own line without any closing punctuation.

That’s my pitch, thanks for listening.


  1. March 6th, 2009 at 4:59 am

    Joe Taibi

    Just a quick FYI. For grins, I followed the site link that ends the second e-mail example and found the following as the last line of the “Book” page:

    “Click on the book image to purchase from Amazon.”

    There is no book image upon which to click.

    It may be a glitch but it reminded me just how frequently this kind of thing occurs. I call it the bulletin board syndrome. You know those boards people have up at work, the corner store, everywhere? that contain everything from meeting announcements to sale ads that people tack up and forget to take them down as soon as they’re no longer timely or relevant?

    Possibly a topic for another article?

    “If you have a website, keep it current!”

  2. March 6th, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Friday Wraps « Central Illinois Photoblog

    […] Internet – have a blog that’s often full of useful information (sort of like this one eh?). They had an entry on perfecting your pitch. Your pitch to win a photography assignment – or any assignment. If you have a photographic […]

  3. March 7th, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Lou Lesko

    JOE: Me thinks the site was getting a quick update with the new version of WordPress when you visited. I just looked and the book is basking in the internet sun now.

  4. March 11th, 2009 at 2:54 pm


    Thank you!

  5. March 14th, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Lou Lesko

    FOLLOWUP: Put your online skills to work for you. If your on Twitter, then you’re already practiced in distilling your thoughts into a concise string. A large part of the pitch is the same thing.

  6. June 1st, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Documentary journeys; chapter one : Lou Lesko

    […] a post over at Resolve entitled How to perfect your pitch, I recount the lessons learned from my first TV pitch over at the Bravo channel. The project, All […]

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