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Designers cause free pitching

Everytime I have a conversation with designers about free pitching I hear that clients are to blame.

I hear that clients are ripping off designers by asking for free pitches on complex projects that require a massive investment for a one in five chance of “winning” the job.

But are clients the real problem?

A recent DesignWeek article by the UK Design Business Association’s (DBA) John Scarrott  outlined an example of why he thinks designers cause free pitching.

He used a real life example of a client-agency interaction as told by Kevin Robson of Wonder Stuff Studio in Gosforth UK.

Kevin was asked to free pitch and he responded 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 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.

John Scarrott speculated on what the take away was from this email.

His first point was that design agencies have more influence than they realise.

He noted that this client had indicated they might change their approach if the other agencies decided not to free pitch.

His second point was that clients see pitching as charitable giving on the part of the agency. They believe that agencies that free pitch want to do this because they agree to make the pitch. Scarrott says that the client recognise that the pitch is a significant investment from the agencies. How can the client be to blame if the majority of agencies free pitch?

John Scarrott’s third point is that the agency sets the pace for the relationship

He sees it a vicious circle because the agency behaviour conditions the client behaviour which then conditions the agency behaviour. The client sees free pitches as the norm because they have always done it that way and they’re not challenged on it.

Here are the three things that John Scarrott says we need to do to stop free pitching.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

For many years we have used a pitching process that involves understanding the clients REAL needs and then putting together a submission that shows there is a need for a strategy to be developed before designs are done.

Working this way we have won quite a few projects against other agencies who put up creative.