Why free pitching is bad for clients & designers
Should designers pitch for their supper?
When it comes to winning clients, regardless of actual industry, the pitch has always been to go to method of showcasing your efforts and showing the prospect just what it is that they can do.
Depending on the industry that you happen to work in, preparing a pitch can either take one hour or one week – either way, it’s time and effort that you potentially will not see any return on. Of course, the longer the prep time the more you stand to lose.
Time, as they say, is money – is yours worth giving over in the hopes of landing that project? By biting the bullet, are you feeding the prospects habit of having people dance for their amusement?
If that last sounds cynical, it shouldn’t because that is essentially what is happening – a potential client sends out pitch invitations, like throwing crumbs into the middle of Trafalgar Square, and watches while the pitches roll in, each more extravagant than the last – and possibly picking up free tips and pointers in the process.
While there may not be anything wrong with the pitch invitation itself, in some ways it is flattering, it may not actually be a great idea for you as a designer and it certainly doesn’t benefit the client.
When preparations for a pitch could conceivably cost several thousand in lost work, are free pitches even an option anymore? If you consider that it is going to cost you money, and you are likely going to have to lower your rates in order to compete… It probably isn’t worth it, no.
Sadly, we live in an era of expectation. As long as agencies are willing to give their creatives away for free, the more clients and prospects are going to expect it to happen. The only way forward, for everybody, and put this issue to bed once and for all is for all agencies to stand firm and say “No” to the free pitch.
Just say No
Basically, if you value what you do, what you produce and what you stand for then why would you give it away for free? You wouldn’t.
In virtually no other industry would this practice be acceptable, so why is it ok for designers and other creatives? It isn’t.
By giving away free samples with every pitch, which is pretty much what is happening, you aren’t just selling yourself short but you are undervaluing the entire industry – If agencies A,B and C are start pitching without even trying to secure anything in return, then how is a client ever going to say yes to agency D who, rightly, wants his time and creativity to be paid for?
Agency D may be a better fit, better qualified and actually better value for money than the other three but is going to be passed over because A,B and C rate their abilities so low that they can’t afford to potentially price themselves out.
The irony is, if all four said no to the free pitch then the playing field becomes that much more level for everybody and clients stand a better chance of finding the agency that they actually need, and vice versa.
Unprofessional conduct hurts everyone
Design agencies that get into this pitching ‘war’ are not going to be bringing their best work to the table – how could they, when its costing them time and money?
When you ask a professional, in any industry, to provide free work and to the exceptionally high standard that your business requires, then do you really expect to get the very best? No, of course not – because as costs and billable hours begin to mount up, the incentive to maintain standards begins to lower.
Collaboration is an important factor for many designers, as a way of forming lasting and meaningful relationships. In the era of the free pitch, aspirations like these are lost to the wind – how long can a relationship last if it is so one sided from the outset? The ideals of the designer are no longer valid, and the client has been failed; whether they actually realise it or not. By requesting free pitches, they are effectively opening their doors to anyone with a pencil.
Many clients believe that free competition is something of a golden goose, but what they fail to realise is that this approach will invariably lead to poor design standards. This, in turn, can have a detrimental effect on the reputation of the client.
In the world of the free pitch, the floor becomes a free-for-all (no pun intended), and as everyone attempts to undercut each other in order to, hopefully, win that contract, the standard of work is going to be reflected so that they can at least minimise their own losses should they not be successful.
All of this is a best case scenario, believe it or not, based on the assumption that only quality agencies (that still need to eat, mind you) will ‘apply’.
Here’s the likely scenario, though:
You offer the promise of lucrative work for the successful ‘bidder’, the one providing the free work, and it is not just the reputable, established agencies that are going to be attracted. You just pricked your finger in a shark infested pool, so don’t be surprised when you get bit.
Low budget jobs attract low quality bidders, so what kind of agency do you think will be attracted by the request of free work?
Free pitch offers can only lead to the weaker, perhaps less capable design agencies taking up the offer. This is because the stronger agencies, the most capable and dependable agencies, are usually busy and won’t ‘waste’ time on free pitches. The weaker design agency, on the other hand, is going to have much more free time and so will be more willing to spend it on that pitch.
The trouble with that is the standard of work is likely to be much lower. Quality will always rise to the surface, of that there is no doubt, but when you are inundated with submissions, and of similar low quality, even the average begins to look world class. This is especially true if you are not accustomed to buying design.
Even if you are given the best ‘pitch’ work, that may well be all they have in the stable. As soon as they have the contract signed, is there a guarantee of continued quality? Of course not.
The free pitch is less about the research and creativity aspect, which is what a mutually beneficial relationship would bring, and more about intuition and guess work. It comes down to what the agency thinks will impress the client. By its very nature, this kind of pitch is superficial and is destined to produce very shallow results.
Pitches have to be paid for, for the sake of everyone involved
In the scenario outlined above, the agency is inevitably going to start cutting corners – and why wouldn’t they? In what is, essentially, an abusive relationship the standards are going to fall so that they are more in line with the fee being paid, and not the client expectations.
Sure, the agency is going to keep standards up for as long as possible, but when costs are climbing higher than the return there will be consequences, whether they are intentioned or not.
The death of the free pitch benefits potential clients too, and not just the agencies and the sooner everyone realises that the better!