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The Pitch & Deal Show

A photo of the interactive tutorial thingy © Mike Holderness

Pitch and Deal tutor Humphrey Evans (Left) about to faciliatate a roleplay of a freelance asking an editor, how much are you offering?

The all-singing, all-dancing Pitch & Deal Show came to London Freelance Branch's October meeting. LFB's own veteran NUJ Training tutors Humphrey Evans and Phil Sutcliffe brought us a flavour of their Pitch & Deal (P&D) course on negotiating, assisted by the collective knowledge and experience of the LFB members present.

Phil kicked off with a rendition of "the freelance anthem" I'm Still Here from Steven Sondheim's musical Follies.

He then noted that while the present government assure us "growth is occurring," possibly leading to " a time when we can start to improve our situation, I suspect that no one is going to offer us that improvement... This is a market place, our politicians have been insisting on it for the last 30 years... We need to start improving our fees... make our working lives a bit more fiscally satisfactory"

On negotiating more money for your work, Phil said, "you need to have a really clear perspective on how this relates to your working life and economic life and where you're headed... Their loving you won't pay the bills. "

There followed a P&D roleplay, with Humphrey facilitating, and two roleplaying Branch members - Anna (portraying a finance writer for print) and Emily Wrightman, roleplaying a Wall Street Journal commissioning editor who'd already got Anna's pitch for a piece, and liked it enough to commission it. (By Friday, please.) As Phil said, "Doesn't really matter if they don't go for it, you can roll it on, to the New York Times."

Be prepared. Before you call, find out how much they've recently paid others for what. Anna expected a rate for 1500 words for the WSJ would would be £350 per 1000 words. Using the LFB website's Rate for the Job pages ,we were able to find a 2013 rate for "Wall Street Journal Europe feature from original pitch all intergalactic rights... €758" and also from this year, a rate for a WSJ feature "for weekly section First US Serial, I think... £450". (The Rate for the Job pages also informed us that someone in the audience had been diddled out of 68 pence by the Guardian for a minimum rate.)

You have to come up with this quite quickly: it's often difficult to come back to them, says Humphrey. You need to get a way to get them to slow down, otherwise you're scrabbling to keep up: have your calculator at the ready when you ring! Humphrey also notes that you should keep an eye on the tempo of the "how much?" conversation if you can - if it's going slowly you might want to speed it up," but you may also to want to sit there and think for five minutes, in which case tell the editor: "give me five minutes, I'll call you back," when suddenly offered "bizarre rates that are too complicated."

Editors love to talk about what the article is about, observes Humphrey, "but you mustn't let them do that. You can hear them putting the phone down before you talk about money, they've got what they want." You need at this point to ask how much they're paying. You might need to introduce it and be less direct, a bridging phrase, like "we need to talk about money," said Humphrey.

"What are you offering?" That's the phrase Phil and Humphrey recommend. "We've done this for a very long time, we've not found anything better," said Humphrey. He and Phil feel the "What are you offering?" phrase is better, "because it leaves it open to negotiation. Freelance editor Mike Holderness suggested, "What are you offering me?" (I don't want you to read ot me from me the rate card, I want more for my special contribution.)

So our simulated freelancer asked out pretend WSJcommissioning editor, "What are you offering? "

" £525"

" That's fine "

" Noooooooooooo!" was Phil and Humphrey's reaction, accompanied by a chorus of groans from the audience. "Don't say 'OK'!" advised Humphrey, "Always ask for more."

Another photo of the interactive tutorial thingy © Mike Holderness

Pitch & Dealers Humphrey Evans and Phil Sutcliffe with Always Ask For More flip-chart reminder

Francis Beckett suggested his favourite explanatory tactic for jacking up the rate at this point - "There's a hell of a lot of research in this one." Or "There's a lot of work involved, it's going to take a lot of time." Way, way back somewhere in his 34 years of freelancing, Phil was once offered £100, and "gruellingly went through all the interviews" he'd have to do, and put this up to £250. He hasn't pulled it off again since the 1980s.

Or there's the "comparison with the competition" tactic: " So-and-so paid me...". Then there's the counter-rate: "can you round it up to £600?" Or there's the "my normal rate is..." gambit. We are, Phil reminds us, after "any increase you can get!"

Phil reminded us of another tactic in response to an offer: silence. Many trade union negotiators "became great leaders by not saying anything, by keeping silence. Meanwhile, you want them to gabble meaninglessly" while they come up with something satisfying to you.

Another photo of the interactive tutorial thingy © Mike Holderness

Phil (standing, right) gives commentary on the roleplay, participants are seated back-to-back to simulate a conversation over the phone

Humphrey recalls as a commissioning editor coming up with a (low) page rate for "run of the mill" stuff, on the basis that ": if they ask for more, always pay it." He rang hundreds of freelances offering that run of the mill rate to write for him: and only one put their rate up. As the P&D team lament, "we're so nice", but as Phil pointed out of putting your rates up " "business people do do that, we forget".

Aim to move an established rate up after a given time - a year is customary, so make a diary note to do so. As Phil said, "I've proved myself to you, after a time - three features? - it's time to move up. It's part of earning your living"

Be very wary of delivering an "I'll only do it for £500" ultimatum. Then there are the long working relationships - if you don't piss them off they'll come back to you again, is that a calculation? And dealing with new clients is, of course different to dealing with established clients.

If you've emailed it, you have a record. Once you have agreed a rate on the phone, send immediately an email, check they understood the same as you.

That was just a taster, there's a forthcoming NUJ Training P&D course on Friday 15 November. It comes with a handout on pricing you work, and much more.

Another photo of the interactive tutorial thingy © Mike Holderness

Another photo of the interactive tutorial thing

Last modified: 05 Nov 2013 - © 2013 contributors
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