Free pitching is bad

Posted on March 5, 2007 14:43 by phil

I’m not the sort of person who views the world in black and white. In fact, I tend to spend a little too much time on the shades of grey. It’s in that context that I take the uncharacteristically straightforward view that “Free Pitching Is Bad.”

By “Free Pitching”, I mean the process whereby design companies produce unpaid, speculative design work in the hope of winning the job. By “Bad” I mean not in the ultimate interests of either client or designer.


Free Pitching arose because too many agencies expanded too rapidly, and when the next downturn came along, they were left with too many mouths to feed and reached the logical, if misguided conclusion that by employing their idle staff in this way, they and their client would benefit.
Whilst it’s easy to see that both benefit in immediate term, what happens after the job is won?
So why is it bad?

Consider for a moment, some of these points:
1. It devalues creative and design work and ultimately, the industry
2. The value of relationships in business is undermined
3. There is no such thing as free. Either the design company absorbs the cost, passes it on through increased fees or the staff work unpaid overtime
4. There is nothing like money to make a client value advice
5. Design created without a proper brief (speculative) is designed to win business

Lets take those point by point:


Design is Intellectual Property (IP), and as such runs the risk of being devalued without giving it away, after all, it’s so easy to see a great idea, and say “I could have thought of that”. Sliced Bread. Great idea, which most people could have thought of. But didn’t.

Giving away design work sends out a clear message - “We don’t value our creativity very highly so why should you?”

Bad Relationships

Try to picture your best client. Odds are you have a good relationship with them. Possibly you consider each other friends. So what then can we say about a one sided relationship? Doomed from the start, this type of relationship is about mutual exploitation, not mutual benefit and will yield exactly what is put into it.


Free Lunch

Pitch day arrives, and the presentations are fantastic, but wait! Fantastic doesn’t happen overnight, and time is indeed money. There’s only three people who can pick up the bill:

1. The design company. If they absorb this without adding it to their fees, they undermine their financial stability. “Financially Unstable” would not be on many people’s lists of desired characteristics for a supplier.
2. Design company employees, through unpaid overtime. Not pleasant to contemplate children growing up not seeing their parents because it’s easier to get free pitches done rather than specify a brief adequately.
3. The client. By stealth. This is just the same as number one, except that the design company builds in the cost of losing into each quote, and when they win, the client pays a “Stealth Tax”. A good reason not to commission agencies who do free pitch work, especially if you don’t want to end up paying for your competitors pitches.

Good Advice

If a client is unwilling to pay for services, exactly how serious are they about commissioning a project? Perhaps the worst scenario all round is one where a multitude of agencies compete for a project which never happens.

Off Brief? What Brief?

Speculative design work has but one sole aim - to win the job. So if this is driven by the design company’s agenda, what relevance has the proposed solution to the client’s problem?

Don’t do it!

Whether you’re agency or client, the free pitch scenario can seem attractive, but before you dive in, think. Agreeing to perform speculative creative work is the quickest way to look unprofessional, and asking for it is the best way to engineer a bad working relationship with a third rate agency. Client or agency - you can do better than that!

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