Rejection: turning a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’

I was out with an old friend from the business and we chatted about one of the things that makes this industry difficult (or perhaps any industry).

That’s the word ‘no.’

I was thinking about that as I prepare for a pitching workshop with PACT here in London.

We’ve all seen these lovely form emails: Thanks so much for submitting your project to us. At this time, and after very careful consideration, we don’t have the space for this kind of project.

When you’re in the entertainment business, you often hear the word ‘no.’

We’ve all heard the stories about Matthew Weiner being in the writing room of The Sopranos yet unable to get a meeting with HBO for his new show Mad Men. There’s a mountain of stories like that – of people who took the blow of a ‘no’ and then went on to prove their project was a ‘yes.’

Having a thick skin is mandatory in this business. It helps that others have felt your pain and can sympathize after you’ve slaved over your concepts and one pagers, and pitched your heart out only to hear that dreaded ‘n’ word.

I have some tips for dealing with rejection and learning how to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes,’ or at least a ‘maybe’ …

It’s easy to say ‘no’

People are busy and it’s easier to say ‘no’ instead of ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not ready to give you an answer right now.’ So your job is to find out whether it’s timing, money or they really don’t like the idea.

Sometimes, gentle probing of the buyer might get you valuable information about how the changing of the guard means no-one wants to be making a decision at this time before a new person comes in.

Do your research

The other way to avoid a ‘no’ is to do your homework before you take your project to someone. Your job is to eliminate all the possible ways that they can say ‘no.’

What have they bought in the past? What are the trades saying? Which writers, producers or directors do they like to work with?

Sometimes, if you have a great partnership or can bring cold hard cash to the table, you may be able to ward off a ‘no.’

Don’t be afraid to start over

If you’re hearing ‘no’ a lot – from everyone you can possibly pitch to – perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board. You might be tempted to say you’re ahead of your time and are a genius but we rise and fall on our timing and, sometimes, sheer luck. Maybe, just maybe, you need to zero in on what you’re doing wrong.

Perhaps you need to be clearer about your concept or provide more detail so people can really get the story. Or maybe you need to look for partners who can help get you to a ‘yes.’ Perhaps you need a fresh pair of ears to hear your pitch and give honest and, if necessary, brutal feedback.

Seriously listen to feedback

Put your ego aside and make your project better. You may have the opportunity to meet up with someone you pitched to and get feedback on what could make your project more appealing. Take that advice seriously.

If you want to have more than your fingers crossed before selling, I can help you prepare and hone your message. Whether you’re looking for investment, trying to sell your boss on an idea or pitching a show. It’s all about focus, clarity and a compelling story. Contact me.

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