Free pitching

This is from an article written by Carol Whitworth at Home, a design agency in Bristol. She hit the nail on the head…

By free pitching, I mean the process whereby design and advertising agencies produce unpaid speculative work for who ever asks!

Believe me, in the past we have been sucked into this soul-destroying process!

Our worst experience was the last straw.

The potential client (massive company) sent out the brief to supposedly three agencies (for three, read six, the design world is tiny and we talk to one another!!!). On receiving their excellent creative brief we asked some crucial questions including, “how much do you want to spend?” The reply came… “Oh, I don’t know, it’s not important at this stage!” We were quiet at the time and felt it was good use of our downtime. So we produced some simply stunning work that answered and exceeded the brief, and was reasonably priced too.

The day of reckoning came (well, three days later than they’d promised!!!). “Carol, your concepts were amazing, the best response we had”, I thought “wicked”. Then the clanger, “Unfortunately you are too expensive, by 20%, so we have given the job to someone else, their ideas are not as good as yours, but they are within our budget, thank you, maybe next time!”

Well, how rude and annoying was that?

We will never be able to stamp out free pitching, as there are plenty of design companies who are willing to go to any lengths to win the work. That, coupled with clients and their huge marketing budgets and buying power, designers are wooed, us included, then we go with the flow and it is the beginning of a dreadful relationship. Free pitching devalues design work and ultimately the design industry as a whole. If a client is unwilling to pay for services, exactly how serious are they about commissioning a project?

Speculative design work has one sole aim – to win the job. So how can you be sure, as the client, that the solution your pitch winner is recommending is truly relevant, and not just driven by the design companies’ greed and/or desperation!

So, in an ideal world, what could be the best way forward?

I believe there are two potential approaches: –

  1. Formal credentials presentations where the playing field is completely level. The client draws up a short list of ideally no more than six agencies that he/she definitely thinks would fit well with their business. Each design company is invited to come along to show beautiful and relevant work, of a similar nature to the brief, and may at this stage decide to tickle the potential client with a tiny gem of an idea, but not to spend days developing full concepts and a range of solutions!
  2. Alternatively, the client could draw up a short list and offer a pitch fee. The amount should reflect the total final budget (we have had as little as £500, and as much as £5,000). As a client you are offering a level playing field from which you can select your winner.


So my final bit of advice is to clients and design teams…




Design agencies