Why I hate free pitching

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Why I hate free pitching: the post that took 29 years to write


‘Hello,’ ‘hi’, ‘how are you?’ Often, we’d see people from rival design companies in reception. They would be waiting, like us, to be ushered in to make their pitch to the client. We were always on friendly terms. Usually, each team consisted of one or two designers, the creative director, plus project and account managers. Sometimes, the pitch would be of such significance (i.e. worth lots of money) that the MD came along too.

There we’d sit, waiting for our turn. Typically, we would have spent the previous fortnight (or more) working on two or three design routes. This often involved input from up to a dozen staff members within the agency running to hundreds of hours of work. If we had done an exceptionally good job and won new business, we’d have helped to keep everyone back at the agency in work and provided the creatives and client-service staff with some well-earned job satisfaction. If.

Of course, we didn’t always win.

When we lost a pitch, we seemed to know exactly how many hours we had all spent on it – how many late nights working and time away from families and friends. The point here is that the cost of producing the designs would almost never be charged to the client – ‘free pitching’.

Most agencies factor these substantial costs into their overheads. They can and have chosen to do this. On the other hand, small agencies and design companies can’t really afford to pitch in this way. Yet, they feel they have no choice, as the process for bidding for significant pieces of work often demands that design samples are supplied along with costings.

From a professional standpoint, this strikes me as unfair to the thousands of small design consultancies (often sole traders, or with fewer than 10 employees) out there, trying to do good work and helping their clients. My attitude to free pitching can be summed up in the following example…

Would you expect an architectural practice to design and part-build a house for you, just to see whether you like it (or not), before agreeing to pay? You might, but no professional would agree to the arrangement. Yet, many companies and public bodies expect creative work to be produced for free. In my view, this can’t be right.

As I said, the article took me 29 years to write. As you might have guessed, this is because I no longer have to worry quite so much about clients expecting me to pitch for free. I run a small design consultancy and I’m fortunate that my clients appreciate the value of design to their businesses – professionals respecting fellow professionals. This post (rant?) was written on behalf of those that are not in my position.

On behalf of my industry, I don’t think I’m asking for the moon here. I’m just asking for commissioners of design work to respect the work of creative professionals enough to expect to pay for it.

What do you think? Are you a designer with views on this, or a commissioner of design? Either way, why not post a comment.


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