Pitch 2.0

Whilst working in agencies for many years, we often discussed how the pitch process felt broken.

Weeks of effort would be devoted to work that would rarely be used – creative responses without relevant knowledge or constraints, and estimates of effort based on assumptions and unknowns. Clients would get back a range of different responses and corresponding costs, rarely comparable. For both sides, a lot of time and effort went into what generally ended up a decision on who had the best slides, or which finger-in-the-air costs most closely matched the budget.

One of the reasons I wanted to work as an independent was to work with clients, enabling them to adopt a different process that was more effective for both parties. I recently had the chance to do this with a great client – smart, open minded, and willing to do things differently. We spent time clarifying the objectives and audiences for the project, and their relative importance. We set clear constraints, and high level user stories that needed to be covered, but steered clear of unnecessary assumptions about the solution. We wrote this up as a brief to provide an efficient handover of knowledge, rather than as a definition of what we wanted someone to build.

Instead of a pitch, we invited 3 agencies that felt a good match for the project to run solution design days with us. We spent valuable time with their strategists, designers, and developers, discussing options, and getting a real feel for each teams’ strengths and weaknesses. We openly discussed the pros and cons of various approaches, and from each session we gained valuable insights. We paid the teams for their time, and the client left with more clarity, and a far greater understanding of how digital solutions are developed. When it came to choosing a partner, the client had a feeling for what each team would be like to work with than is possible from listening to a one hour pitch, or from reading a document.

We made a number of decisions following the solution design days, and clarified some important assumptions. We asked each provider to give an estimate for the remaining discovery work, and for the delivery phase we asked for a team size and cost per sprint. This allowed the client to compare costs on a like for like basis, and weigh this up against the relevant strengths of each team. (As is often the case at this stage, there are still significant unknowns, decisions to be made, and priorities to be set, so asking for a ‘2 week sprint cost’ rather than a ‘final cost’ is more realistic and useful.)

When the decision was made, we had already done the introductions and discussed next steps, we knew how we were going to work together, and what gaps need to be researched and defined. In essence, the client chose a partner they trust to develop a viable solution for the objectives and audiences, and both parties felt ready to get started.

Processes can always be improved, and we have gathered good, honest feedback that will be useful for the next project. Those involved felt that this was a more effective and satisfying way of developing a solution and finding a partner, than crafting an impressive pitch based largely on guesswork. It was also a lot more enjoyable, and we all learned a lot on the way.

We all know the traditional agency pitch process is broken, so let’s not waste any more time and talent on great work that the world will probably never see!

I’d love to know how other people approach finding creative and technical partners to work with, or if you think this might work for you, I’d be happy to discuss and answer any questions.

A little story

I want to tell you a little story of happy coincidences & good energy (all characters are real, not imaginary)…
Viv worked in software for big brands & charities at @computerlovers in Manchester.
She could see the potential for digital beyond websites and was inspired by social enterprises.
One day she saw a tweet from @jonjalex about a ‘How can I do more good?’ day.
This day with @JonathanMWise & @JeremyMathieu gave her the courage to ‘follow the energy’ and set up @ObjectivesFirst.
Soon after she went to an @UnLtd event on social enterprises and met @wedogooddigital.
They discovered they had the same values, complimentary skills and a lot of love for the world.
They connected with a brilliant copywriter @DaniJStyles and other talented digital folk.
One weekend, Viv got up the courage to speak to a homeless person in Prestwich.
She knew the advice was not to give cash and was frustrated she couldn’t do more to help.
She did some more research and started to develop ideas for using digital to help.
Later that month Viv went to a @mcrsocent talk by @dotforgeimpact, organised by @konstant_g.
She had met @cdhrich100 & @thatgirlvim before who now worked at DotForge
They connected Viv with @rentlord and they talked through her ideas.
She submitted an idea
with help from @wedogooddigital & @FreeYourIdea.

She was full of excitement when it was selected and quickly set to work.
As part of developing the concept, Viv visited @BoothCentre to meet Amy and find out about the amazing work they do.
Amy suggested talking to a few others who were also thinking about tech for homelessness.
Viv contacted @acrim to share what we were working on and offer support for any of their ideas.
He connected her with COR who had already formed a group of homeless organisations that needed something similar.
They talked excitedly on the phone and agreed to meet to find a way to make this happen.
The next bit is the history we will make together. Watch this space!!
This is a tribute to all those that share their time and ideas freely. These are the people that make things happen.
As @wedogooddigital always tells me…”the universe provides”. Indeed it does.

Doing more good…and still paying the bills

Many of us want to do work that is in line with our intrinsic values, and contribute to the world in a positive way. We know that working together with purpose brings us more happiness than money alone ever could. We want to use our skills to do more good, but can we make a living doing it?

We have our feet in two worlds. All around us brilliant ideas are emerging, through creativity, collaboration, and smart technology. The sharing economy is booming, and a kinder, more sustainable way of living feels possible. Yet at the same time, we still have bills to pay.

There are some brilliant groups working on social problems in their free time, including Social Media Surgeries, Net2, Good for Nothing, Mcr Social Entrepreneurs, Geeks for Social Change and various hackathons. It is fantastic that people are willing to give their time for free, and that will always have its place, but to make more of a difference in the long term, we need to make it sustainable.

As traditional government funding is cut, and charities resources are stretched to breaking point, new business models are increasingly important. Social enterprises are flourishing, and social impact investment can get large scale projects off the ground. Crowdsourcing and community shares can pool money from individuals and groups to fund great ideas. Some businesses also fund social impact projects, for compassionate reasons, positive PR, or both. It is an exciting new world, but can also be pretty baffling for those used to doing their work each day and getting paid at the end of the month.

Recently I helped organise an event exploring ‘How can I do more good?’ for Manchester creatives, following similar events in London and Bristol. It was really special to spend time with open, passionate people with similar values, and we all agreed that stronger connections between us would be really helpful .

We would like to develop a community of practice around these themes, and try to remove the blockers we come across. Through more effective ways to connect, share knowledge and resources, and helping each other, we can do more.

As a starting point, I’d like to trial some social events and/or online discussions that bring together people with similar questions, and those that might help answer them. It feels appropriate for the first event to focus on ideas for funding social good work, to try and remove some of the blockers we identified.

If you are interested in being involved, or know others that might, you can add your details below and I will keep you posted. (Suggestions or offers of help also welcome.)

Beyond Websites

I have been working with a number of charities and social enterprises on their digital strategy recently, exploring where technology can make a difference in people’s lives, beyond sharing information through a website.

It feels as though digital transformation is finally moving from a buzzword to reality, as organisations recognise increasing needs and diminishing budgets.

For me, technology has always been about improving how we experience life in some way – making something easier; providing accurate and relevant information to enable choices; connecting people; enabling us to reach our full potential.

There are a rich variety of inspiring examples – tools that enable the blind to navigate the underground, that map disaster areas for more effective humanitarian relief, that connect those with needs to willing volunteers, and many more. (For more inspiration, i’d recommend following the Tech4Good Award winners.)

In health, education and social care, digital can connect people and provide information to many, when face to face services are only available for a few.

There is a temptation to notice emerging trends and innovation, and look for any opportunity to re-use this learning as we compete for people’s attention. Tinder style matching apps and peer to peer sharing sites have seen fantastic results, but that isn’t the limit, we can do much more!

Awareness of what is possible is obviously important, but people’s needs vary hugely depending on their situation and conditions. This understanding should be our primary source of inspiration.

Organisations and the people they serve are best placed to convey distinct practical and emotional needs, with experts in various fields providing creative and innovative solutions. The most effective ideas won’t follow a template, but emerge when these parties co-create together, always starting with people, and the challenges they face in living their lives.

I look forward to seeing more inspiring examples of technology improving lives, and am really excited about working with passionate organisations and individuals to create our own.

If you are trying to make a difference, and have a hunch that technology might be able to help, i’d love to chat to you,  so feel free to get in touch.

A good digital brief

I have seen so many briefs in my time working in agencies and software companies. Some are very short, some are very long, but only a few give exactly what creative and technical experts need to enable them to respond with effective solutions. This is frustrating for both sides, and with a few improvements everyone involved could get a lot more value from the pitching process.

You are the experts in your business, and you want to work with experts in digital. If the right information can be conveyed from one party to the other and back again, the results will be far more satisfying. Here are my top tips for what to include in a digital brief…

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Thinking Digital 2015

Thinking Digital is an annual conference for those curious about how technology is shaping our future. From medical robotics to digital humanitarians, business romantics to particle physics, home automation to a replacement for GPS, physical data visualisation to live coding DJ sets…technical and creative inspiration was flowing from every speaker!


It’s now a few days on and i’m still feeling really inspired by the ideas, discussions and people i met in Newcastle. Here is a quick taster of a few of the themes that struck me most, to warm you up for the Manchester event in November.

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_DSC0160-EditAdventure comes in many forms. I have run long distances over hills and in snow, cycled through Asia and Africa, raced in Scotland and the Alps, organised events, and faced fears with people i barely know. Now I’m setting off into the unknown for a different kind of challenge…leaving my safe job to follow my heart, exploring new ways to use technology to make a difference.

I passionately believe in doing work with purpose, using our energy for things which align with our values and make us feel alive. I am increasingly aware that the work we do influences culture, the way we think about ourselves and each other. There are some brilliant people and organisations working hard to improve lives, social enterprises addressing local problems with creative and innovative solutions, and i want to be part of it!

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