Skip to content

TV, Pitching and Networking

Youth Board Member Claire Stratton braved the Festival madness (and hills) of Edinburgh in August to round-up a bumper crop of top tips for aspiring TV creatives from this year’s MGEITF...

This year’s MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival offered a three-day extravaganza of industry sessions, social events and masterclasses, bringing together more than 2000 media professionals, televisual talent and square-eyed aficionados from around the world to examine the TV industry under the microscope.

TV is Changing

Elisabeth Murdoch waxed lyrical about the power of television to “make hearts pound.” In her seminal MacTaggart address – the first by a woman in 17 years – she claimed that television’s prerogative to create human bonds, as expertly demonstrated by the Olympics, has been lost in the relentless drive for profit. TV’s focus, she argued, should be on building a community rather than selling a commodity.

Murdoch also recognised that with platforms such as YouTube offering an alternative to the traditional producer–to–broadcaster model, multiplatform engagement and the rise of Second Screen viewership, television is changing.

For some, these new technologies are posing a significant challenge. Writers Heidi Thomas (Call The Midwife) and Sally Wainwright (Scott and Bailey) noted that dramas are now faced with engaging a more distracted audience than ever before.

The First Ten Minutes session advocated the use of unconventional narratives to hook in viewers and suggested that, for a drama to truly be successful, it must be so absorbing that doing anything else while watching it is utterly impossible.

But while new technologies do pose challenges, they also empower industry starters – members of the ‘DIY generation’ – to use these new platforms to hone skills, develop expertise and get ideas out there.

Pitching Pointers

Despite new platforms however, the old model of television commissioning is not obsolete just yet and the ability to successfully pitch your ideas remains a critically important skill for any broadcast professional. BBC Academy’s session The Killer Pitch offered some fantastic advice on how to give your idea the best chance of success. Here are a few do’s and don’ts:

Do:

  • Your research! There is nothing more irritating for a commissioner that having an idea pitched to them that is underworked or is simply not right for their channel. 
     
  • Have passion for your idea. Commissioners want to buy the programmes that people genuinely want to make. Enthusiasm is infectious.
     
  • Practise your pitch. It sounds obvious but going into a meeting without having a clear idea of what you want to say is unprofessional and unnecessary. Practice, after all, makes perfect.

Don’t:

  • Take in too many ideas. Two or three properly worked up ideas will give you lots to talk about.
     
  • Ignore feedback. Even if you love your idea, a commissioner might have valuable suggestions to make. Embrace them and their input; they do (generally) know what they’re talking about.
     
  • Hate a ‘no’. Sometimes a ‘no’ is liberating as it allows you to focus on other ideas. If you really love an idea, don’t give up on it, but do think carefully about why it hasn’t been picked up yet.

Networking Tips

Pitching an idea is one thing, but pitching yourself is an entirely different ball game. No matter how much you read on the subject or how often you do it, networking – essentially chatting to strangers about what you want them to do for you – is incredibly daunting.

Here are a few hints and tips gathered from a survey of friendly delegates that will hopefully take the edge off the fear:

“Confidence breeds contacts”

Go into every networking situation with your head held high, even if you feel like running away and hiding in the bathroom. Have a clear idea of what you’re looking for and what you can offer and chances are nobody will ever know.

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

Everybody has had to network at some point in their career and the vast majority will remember how scary it was and give you a fair hearing. To be honest, even if you do spill your drink all over someone, at least you might stand a chance of being remembered!

“Don’t be afraid to walk away”

Everyone has a story about the time they got stuck talking to Martin in accounts for two hours. A “thank you for speaking with me, it was great talking to you” and a handshake politely ends the conversation and frees you up for a potentially more fruitful conversation.

“Make sure you actually give a shit”

Nothing will turn a person off more than talking to someone who doesn’t really want to be there. If you are passionate about what you’re saying, where you’re going and why you’re going there, you’ll gain the respect of whoever you’re talking to.

Find your passion

In the words of one anonymous executive “the television industry is wonderful but it can be a right bitch sometimes.” TV is frustrating some of the time, hard work most of the time and it can take a while to find your place. But if you have a passion for what you do, and demonstrate that passion to those around you, then – as mentioned time and again in all the sessions, workshops and masterclasses I attended this weekend – you really won’t go far wrong.
 

Claire Stratton is a BAFTA Youth Board member and is currently working at Studio Lambert in the development team. Claire got her big break in the TV industry after attending The Network - the talent scheme of the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. On Guru, she recommends checking out the Masterclasses strand for a healthy dose of inspiration.