There’s always something new you can learn – NUJ Pitch & Deal in Brussels

NUJ Brussels’ Pitch & Deal training course on Saturday 26th April saw a small group of members experience some highly-intensive tuition from two expert NUJ trainers brought over from the UK for the day. Between the two of them, Phil Sutcliffe (London Freelance Branch) and Louise Bolotin (Manchester branch) had lessons for even the most hardened of old hands.

Pitch & Deal is one of the NUJ’s longest-established training courses. It is also popular, focusing as it does on involving participants in roleplay throughout the day, rather than having them sit like vegetables in a classroom. The content took us from how to prepare that initial story pitch, to how to sell it by email or over the phone to editors, to the little tips and tricks that help increase the fee paid.

The content was excellent, and very valuable. But it was the roleplay itself that hammered the lesson home, enabling each of us to see our own weaknesses in how we put the principles into effect. We each had to come up with a story pitch, and then negotiate it to an editor by email and phone while others watched. And we all make mistakes under such pressure.

Since everybody had to take a turn, no one person had the chance to sit back and judge anyone else. And it was clear that, in practice, we all had lessons to take home.

What was surprising is that the course is actually quite fun. With one team in a huddle briefing the journo before the phone conversation (get the maximum, and walk away if the offer is below your reserve level), and the other team briefing the editor (remember you blew your budget last year, so you’ve got to pay as little as possible), you never quite knew how each phone conversation was going to work out, causing laughter as a carefully briefed journo or editor ended up blowing it by saying the wrong thing.

The meaning of verbal and written contracts was also discussed, including something new for me, the fact that a tweeted acceptance can be considered a contract! However the importance of following up any verbal discussion with confirmation on paper (or email) was emphasised.

All the participants said afterwards that they enjoyed it. I took away a heightened awareness of selling techniques, how to pick your time carefully for that critical pitching email or phone call, and a reminder that inflation affects everybody – you should always ask for more.

© Philip Hunt, 2014