You only get one chance to make a good impression, or so the old adage goes. For designers, doing so can mean winning over a creative director to secure that dream job, or persuading potential clients or collaborators that you’re imaginative, talented and professional enough for your pitch to succeed.

Making a good impression is not as simple as putting across how broad your CV is. “Do your research and find out what makes a particular design agency tick,” says Michael Smith, creative director at London agency Cog Design. “Don’t just look on their site, dig a little deeper. When you write a crafted email or letter, treat it like a project. Think about your message and your audience and find the perfect fit.”

Spread from a self-promotional brochure by 1977 Design

Standing out from the crowd is another way to impress. “It’s good to take the unexpected approach,” says Simon Forster, creative director of Robot Food, a branding and design agency in Harrogate. “An illustrator we work with a lot [approached us with] a picture he had painted of a robot eating a car door, with ‘Anything to feed me?’ written on it. The effort he went to for us made him stand out.”

London agency 1977 Design’s creative director Paul Bailey says you should follow up anything you send with a phone call. “Talk may be cheap, but it also gives us a quick idea of what you’re about and that you are actually interested in working with us.”

Terrible Tales of Disastrous Dates, sent out to friends and clients of Cog Design on Valentine’s Day

Once you’ve got your foot in the door, the quality of your portfolio will be crucial. “After all, it’s all about presentation,” Simon says. “The most impressive thing at interview is when someone pulls out a beautiful portfolio and talks through the case studies with passion.”

Coherent promotion

Promo poster and entry form for Cog Designs’ Student Awards competition

Beauty isn’t enough – your self-promotional efforts need a certain harmony too. “The suite of materials needs to look like a coherent promotional set,” Paul says. “If your CV is styled totally differently to your website, then we’re highly likely to wonder how much thought has gone in to it.”

All three designers value punctuality, cultural awareness and confidence when meeting a potential contractor or employee for the first time. The courage to challenge briefs or ways of working can also impress. “The worst thing for a studio is to have no one questioning,” Paul says.

Enamel badges by Cog Design, sent to friends and contacts

Of course it can be difficult thing to tread the line between having a highly individual perspective and being studiedly professional; knowing when to be circumspect is vital too. “Be prepared to voice an opinion but be open to other people’s opinions,” Paul advises.

“I have vision and passion in abundance,” Simon says, “but if I feel the situation requires a more professional and reserved approach, I get our design director Mike to step in so I don’t blow it.” In other words, it can be worth bringing along colleagues with a mix of personalities when making a crucial pitch.

Work by 1977 Design for the Warwickshire County Cricket Club’s Museum in Edgbaston

In the end, enthusiasm and a burning desire to get the work are by far the most persuasive qualities you can bring, Michael advises. “We can teach most of the other stuff.”