Agencies and designers are often asked to pitch creative ideas for free. Is it right or wrong?
FREE pitching, who's to blame?
There's proof that designers can be their own worst enemy; that those who
undertake free pitching create the expectation of just that. And unless they
stop doing it, it won't stop.
This is of course good news: killing off speculative creative is in the hands
of design and website agencies, not clients. All they have to do is stop agreeing to do it,
offering to do it or talking about it. And replace it with something else.
Where is the proof? Here follows a real life example of a client-agency
interaction on email. It was volunteered to John Scarrott by a DBA member,
Kevin Robson of Wonder Stuff Studio in Gosforth.
Kevin responded to a free pitch request using the DBA member template letter
and DBA backing to support their argument. Here is the response he received
from the client.
Email from client to DBA member:
“Thanks for your email earlier in the week.
I totally understand your viewpoint (against) free pitching. I had the
same feedback from another design agency quite recently too.
At the moment we work with several agencies who are willing to submit
speculative designs. I appreciate that this represents a significant investment
from the agencies and I'm very grateful for it as for our project, we are mainly
looking for clear, attractive layouts and seeing these before we appoint an
agency is really helpful for us.
I am grateful for your email as it does give us something to think about with
regards to our tender process. I really like your work so will bear you in mind
if we move away from tenders involving speculative design.
So what can be taken from this situation?
The design agency community has more influence than they realise
This client has indicated that they may well change their approach if the
other agencies decided not to free pitch.
Free pitching is interpreted as charitable giving on the part of the agency
That's how the client sees it. They believe that agencies that free pitch want
to do this because they agree to it. The client recognises that this is a
significant investment from the agencies and believe this is fine and quite
frankly, who's to blame them if the majority of agencies go with it?
The agency sets the pace for the relationship
The agency behaviour conditions the client behaviour which conditions the agency
behaviour and so it goes on. If the client has had free pitches before and they
behave as if that's the norm and they're not challenged on it, they will
continue to request it, thinking it's the norm. If agencies have done free
pitches before, grumble but continues to do them nothing changes.
Real change is possible if three things happen:
- Design Agencies act together as one. When one or two designers refuse a free pitch there is a chance for change. But the chances of a move away from speculative design are increased significantly when more designers adopt this behaviour.
- Design Agencies adopt strong principles. Each agency has to have a culture that says no to speculative creative. They have to set themselves up to win business differently. Forget how they got here and why. Forget what everyone else is doing. Concentrate on what they are doing and why.
- Design Agencies want to change. If agencies want to continue to free pitch then there will not be any objection from clients to this. So the only people standing in their way are the agencies themselves.
If the latter two points happen, then the first point will inevitably result
There will be a ball curve to change and the industry will reach a tipping point where more people will not be free pitching than those doing it. The practice of free pitching will then gradually lose traction.
You have no chance of changing minds if you don’t aim and fire
You have to believe you can change things for the better. Some you’ll win and some you’ll lose. But the biggest single impact of giving up the free pitch are:
You’ll feel better about what you do.
You won’t get those nagging feelings that you wasted your time. That you’re working for nothing. You’ll feel like a design professional someone who sells their expertise for money, not someone who draws pictures for free.
Story provided by Design Week