Mark Mayerson


Writer, Cartoonist, Sculptor

Pitch Audiences, Not Gatekeepers Part 3
(April 9, 2014)

Part 2 is here.

If the audience is the only thing that can create a success, creators have to pitch to the audience. That means taking risks.

Seth Godin is a best selling author who writes and blogs about marketing. He asks, "But what if I fail?" His response is, "You will. The answer to the what if question is you will. A better question might be 'after I fail, what then?' Well, if you've chosen well, after you fail you will be one step closer to succeeding and you will be wiser and stronger and you almost certainly will be more respected by all of those that are afraid to try."

Aza Raskin, a designer at Firefox says, "Your first try will be wrong. Budget and design for it." That quote comes from a book called Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

Most ideas fail. Most books are not best sellers. Most movies don't gross $100 million. Most TV shows don't last beyond one season. With odds like this, what's the best way forward? The answer is to fail fast and cheap.

If you spend years on something and the audience doesn't like it, you've wasted years. If you spend a lot of money on something and the audience doesn't like it, it's cost you a lot. The faster and cheaper you can get your idea in front of an audience, the more likely you are to survive the failure and come back with something better. It may be a revision of your original idea or it may be something wholly new, but it will be closer to what the audience wants.

This goes against the grain of our fantasies. The dream is that the idea is hailed as brilliant and is embraced by the audience, catapulting the creator to fame and fortune. While that's a lovely thought, the reality is different.

Everyone reading this has heard of Walt Disney, Jim Henson and Steve Jobs.

Compare the quality of the Laugh-O-Grams, Disney's earliest work, to his acknowledged classics.

Jim Henson began on local TV and did 10 second commercials for coffee that were primitive compared to The Muppet Show or The Dark Crystal.

The Apple II computer was large and slow. Certainly it could not compete with the smart phone that you may be using to read this.

In each case, these creators started with something basic and kept tuning it and improving it through audience feedback. Each of them had failures along the way and their best work took decades to develop. It would not have been possible without satisfying an audience from the start and growing their audience as their work became more sophisticated.

None of us may ever equal Disney, Henson or Jobs, but their path is far more typical than the overnight success. The fact is that creating something that an audience likes is hard. Sustaining it while you grow a business around it is at least as hard and is going to take time.

Pitching to a buyer also takes time. Companies are famously slow for making decisions. Even with a sale, it sometimes takes years to complete financing for a film or TV series. While you wait for the money, there is still no proof that the audience will like your idea. Furthermore, in selling the idea, you've lost control of your creation and each additional investor may push the idea farther from what you want.

Neither path is simple or easy, but only one of them leaves you in charge.

Continued in part 4