The 6 Up-front Questions to Ask Your Pitch Client
June 21, 2017

‍Maybe I’m a little weird, but on-site pitches are arguably my favorite part of the job. I don’t mind a frantic few days of late nights, and it’s in those kinds of “everyone locked in a room together” pressure cookers that you can demonstrate value that you don’t always get to on slower, more deliberate projects. You still need to set yourself up for success though, and asking critical project questions up front is key to that need, whether on-site or off. Here’s the what and why of my up-front client questions:

1. What is my role today as your presentation guru?

It’s important to clarify client expectations right up front, the most crucial of which is the most basic: “What do you want from me during this project?”

Some clients will be looking not just for a bangin’ slide designer, but for a partner to talk presentation strategy and act as a senior, guiding voice in their process (aka the juicy, extra-fun gigs). These will more often be businesses that don’t have a big creative department, or have no creative department at all. Think investment firms, market research or development agencies, or just start-ups and small businesses that are prioritizing other staffing needs.

In the middle we have creative agency gigs, for clients chocked full of their own, seasoned strategists and designers. They usually need a trustworthy, experienced pair of hands who understands the process and constraints of their work. While they may not need you to take a leadership role per say, they might still be looking for you to interject best practices amidst knocking out stellar slides.

At the tale end of the spectrum we have, for lack of a better term, slide monkey gigs. These tend to be time-sensitive, semi-rush jobs where a) content is either already fully baked when you show up, b) rapidly changing to the point where too much outside input on content becomes counter-productive, or c) there’s no extra time, and the slides just need to look way better, way fast.

There’s actually a lot of variance here, so based on your business model or just your pickiness about what assignments your willing to take on, you may want to pose this question before ever accepting the assignment. If you’re still in on the gig, you can move on to:

2. What program(s) are we working in?

This seems like it should be self-evident when you get the job files, but take nothing for granted. I’ve received plenty of Keynote outlines, only to find out the actual deck needs to be developed in PowerPoint, and vice versa.

During the planning phase, your client may very well just utilize whatever they have at their disposal, or default to their comfort zone. Maybe they’re on a Mac that doesn’t have Microsoft Office. Maybe they don’t know how to work a Mac, but they love the dynamic nature of Keynote’s final product. Maybe they’re just used to working with an internal team that doesn’t require explicit instructions on these sorts of details.

Ask the seemingly obvious stuff up front and you’ll be better off in the long-run, and have an easy lead-in to the next question:

3. Will the deck itself be the final deliverable?

More and more often, I find myself pushing clients to present via PowerPoint / Keynote, but when it’s time to email a copy of the deck or leave a flash drive with the client, to export to PDF.

“But Scott ... what about all of the glorious animations I crafted?” you might say. Look, you’re very talented. I know. Your magic will wow them in the pitch room.

But by and large, your client’s client is unlikely to walk around the office showing the deck off in presentation mode again. They’ll be page-flipping and assessing at their leisure so they can interject the slides and bits of information they actually need into later discussions. I know, bummer.

Now this leads us down a best practices rabbit hole of object animation versus page transition animation and liberal use of the Magic Move / Morph transitions. I’ll address that in a later entry. But the PDF leave-behind possibility also leads us into another important question for the savvy designer:

4. Can I (please) use some non-system fonts?

System fonts are mediocre as a rule and even if there were exceptional ones, they’d still kinda suck by virtue of offering no distinctive personality to a given deck. They’d be over-exposed in the medium by their system-font-y nature.

The pushback on using non-standard fonts is usually two-fold:

How will our client be able to view this after the fact? THINK ABOUT THE LINE BREAKS!
We just covered this: nudge your client toward planning for a PDF leave-behind. Font problem solved. Are there videos in your deck? Plan the time need to insert them after export, or give them the whole thing as an exported video file, or include them separately.

How will we be able to review / present this? THINK ABOUT THE LINE BREAKS!
This used to hold more weight, before good, free-to-use fonts were readily available to the masses. But now they are! There are plenty of reliable font resources that won’t cost your client anything more than the time it to takes you to explain how to download and install them. For reluctant clients, start them easy and suggested Google Fonts; trusted name, easy on the nerves.

If you’re a non-designer and this sounds like overly high-minded tomfoolery, I’d urge you to download a few distinctive fonts and do some plug and play with an old deck. Fonts are critical to personality, readability, and a unified visual language. You heathen.

Where was I? Oh yea:

5. Who is going to run the deck after hand-off, and are they equipped to do so?

So often this gets lost in the shuffle and turns into a panic moment towards the end of the project. Help your client by at least planting the seeds up front:

Whose going to run the deck and off of what computer?

Does it have the latest version of the software on it?

Does it have the fonts we need?

If it’s a live meeting, do you have all the dongles that could possibly be needed to hook up to the audio/video source?

Even if they’re not ready to tackle it right then and there, you’ve done the due diligence of making them aware of the concerns and implications.

6. What is the schedule for the next few days?

The answer to this will invariably be a vague, rough outline of what the client would ideally like to happen. Nine out of ten times, that rough plan will be out the window within the first six hours of the project.

You still need to get a rough sense of hopes and expectations right away, regardless of how they might be dashed. This will allow you to help steer and adjust those expectations based on reality, and your own sanity. Pitches are long-hour days and late nights, but you need to suss out early what concessions might be unreasonable. It’s totally normal that you might work a few 12–15 hours days, but there’s a point of diminishing returns if your client’s workflow leaves out the part where you, like .. sleep.

Know what the benchmarks are for each day, and help the client assess what they’ll need to do to reach those benchmarks while still having a pitch designer at their disposable who isn’t a disheveled, half-delirious mess.

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Now this this is the big six for me, but there are plenty of other questions to dig into shortly afterward concerning image use, animations, and the specifics of style and build preference that will make more sense to ask once you’ve gotten your brain wrapped around the assignment. The larger idea here is to immediately develop a baseline of knowledge about the assignment that will allow you to to predict, plan for, and react to needs the client might not themselves be considering.

Setting any client at ease is major freelancer/consultant bonus, doubly so for pitch clients. Demonstrating process and forethought does just that.

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