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the best kind of client proposal?

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Joanne Braithwaite
the best kind of client proposal?
on Jan 5, 2010 at 5:20:40 am

Hi everybody,

Let's say you've got a potential client who now wants to receive your proposal (woohoo!). You know which creative approach you're going to take, and you know how much you want to charge.

What do the best proposals look like? Are they one page long? Two? More? How much detail do you put into them? Do you pretty them up with images?

This wouldn't be a contract or even the first draft of a script - both of those would come after they accepted the proposal and decided to do business with you (double woohoo!).

All suggestions gratefully accepted! I've worked in the industry for 20 years, the last decade or so as a writer/director in factual television, and am now striking out on my own. Wish me luck!



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walter biscardi
Re: the best kind of client proposal?
on Jan 5, 2010 at 12:29:49 pm

Well first off all, Good Luck!!

As for the proposal, is this a pitch or a production proposal?

If it's a pitch to sell an idea and your services, then you might want to "pretty it up" with some imagery and a nice graphical layout. My pitches generally start with a one or two page overview of the entire project and then any supporting documents including bios behind that. I use these for pitching original series to broadcast outlets.

If it's simply a production proposal, then I generally go with a very straightforward estimate type of layout. Nothing fancy, just simple text layout on my letterhead.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
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Joanne Braithwaite
Re: the best kind of client proposal?
on Jan 5, 2010 at 4:35:49 pm

Hi Walter,

I guess I'm not sure what the difference between a pitch and a production proposal is - oops!

This document would be the one after our initial face-to-face meeting where the potential client has (with great excitement, no doubt) agreed to look at a written proposal. I'm imagining this would include my general creative approach as well as a proposed price.

If this (still slightly mysterious to me) proposal is accepted, the client and I would then sign a contract, and a full shooting script would be written up and approved.

I assume it's this document that you "pretty up" with images and such? I'm also assuming that it wouldn't be more than a couple of pages long. Is that right?



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Mike Cohen
Re: the best kind of client proposal?
on Jan 5, 2010 at 6:15:00 pm

As Walter said, you only need to pretty-up the proposal if the client needs it. Here are two examples:

Client A: Big Bob's House of Highlighters

You have a meeting with them about a project they have in mind. it is a DVD about their manufacturing process, which they will give to potential investors and current customers. They know what they want, and just need a price. In that case, give them a standard 1 page proposal, listing what you will give them and what it will cost.

Client B: Diamond Dave's Drawbridge Repair Inc.

The Owner's son, Dave Jr, wants to create a video to promote the company's services. He feels that there is potentially a lot of money to be made from the USA Recovery bill, as the country's drawbridges are generally old and falling apart, thus they are shovel-ready projects. Dave Jr. learned about your services after seeing a video you made elsewhere in town, and he really thinks this is a winner. But Dave Sr. is a tough sell, so you're going to have to work for this.

In this case, make a proposal that includes a storyboard, or at least a written treatment. Really sell the idea with descriptive language not only about what the video will look like, but also what it will accomplish. Dave Jr. wants to use you, but Dave Sr. needs convincing that the project is worth doing, no matter who does the actual work.

There is of course a middle-ground where you need to sell the idea and yourself. In that case, split the difference.

Over time, you will get comfortable with how and when to use both types of pitches/proposals, and when to combine them. In fact you may come up with a template.

And while you are at it, make sure you calculate your actual costs and overhead, to make sure the price you come up with is actually going to make you some money.

Good luck.

Mike Cohen

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Mark Suszko
Re: the best kind of client proposal?
on Jan 6, 2010 at 3:27:35 pm

I don't know much about how you pitch shows to networks, but as to corporate and government types, I would caution you about putting in too many visuals in the treatment/proposal stage.

Only because I have found, over time, that even when you make it clear the sketches or rough illustrations you included are just notional place-holders, invariably, some decision-maker at some point will either fall deeply in love with the temp imagery, become "welded" to it, demanding you use it exactly like you showed it..... or they will decide they HATE it, and they won't be able to get past that visual they have some issue with. Even after you take it out, they will "remember" where it was and act like it is still there. Such are the hazards of pitching to non-creative types. Even in the aformentioned example of the plain vanilla production for the highlighter company, there is room for something like a Creative Treatment.

It may be as simple as defining key phrases and the style of graphic presentation, as well as the planned duration and anything about the editing or shooting style that's out of the ordinary - but I think you need something there as a basis for the discussion. Later, when the client says: "this is not what I had pictured in my mind when we discussed the project" is not the time to find out you've wasted time and money.

The Creative Treatment is a vital, money-saving document, it allows everybody to understand the form things will take, without getting bogged down in script wording so specific that someone will call it a deal breaker.
Rather, let the prose in the Treatment get just specific enough that you have a guide as to the time and expenses you'll encounter. it is not the script; it is the blueprint for the script and the overall production.

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Joanne Braithwaite
Re: the best kind of client proposal?
on Jan 6, 2010 at 11:28:21 pm

I hadn't thought about that, Mark. Good point. I've put lots of visuals into network pitches, at last once they're past the one-pager stage, but the corporate client is new to me.

I plan to put a written description of my creative approach in the proposal, such as the points the video will cover, the locations, the "feel" and anything else of note, but recently saw a few corporate pitches from another company that had lots of pretty pictures in them, and was wondering whether that was industry standard.

What I'm hearing from you folks is that it's not standard, yes? Put pictures in if you think they're appropriate, but know that it could work either for you or against you?

Thanks, everybody! Your input is much appreciated


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Mark Suszko
Re: the best kind of client proposal?
on Jan 7, 2010 at 7:49:40 pm

Joanne, I don't think there's a hard and fast rule; if you know your target well, you'll know what's appropriate. If you're having to fly blind, then I would suggest something more conservative, as outlined earlier.

Also, you pitch concepts differently depending on who in the organization you're talking to: the promo-related people use and like lots of slasy imagery and that stuff. The financial people, not so much.

One of the problems happens when you hone the pitch very specifically to one person in the organization, then they take your pitch materials to another person inthe organization, who is not at all like the initial subject you targeted with your materials.

Now you have a third party presenting your pitch materials to a fourth person, the decision-maker you wanted to talk to directly, and rarely would thethrid party get it right, or even close to what you intended your mesage to be like.

I would much rather those folks call me back to present the pitch again to that other person, than to count on someone else to execute my strategy for me.

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