Free pitch? Say NO!

Last week a contact of ours kindly passed on our details to a major London brewery who were looking for some new designs to be developed for their range of next season’s ales. Ideally we heard, they were looking for a new, small, dynamic and local agency to help them.

Lovely job, we thought, please send us the brief.

On review we found that there was a request for costs by a certain date, along with designs for one of the brands. The conversation with the brand manager went something like this:

—At the same time as we submit a cost, you want us to show some designs?

—Yes please, to see if you have something we like. Just for one of our clips.

—Ok, but if we don’t have something you like, how do we proceed?

—We will choose work from another agency that we’ve briefed, some have already submitted ideas, but we can give you a little longer to respond.

—Thanks, but if you don’t choose our designs, will you give us a rejection fee?


—So it’s a free pitch?

—Essentially, yes.

—Well, we don’t do free pitching I’m afraid. We think it’s immoral and goes against The Design Business Association code of conduct, an association of which we are members.

Some pleasantries ended the call. Then I swore to myself.

Three things struck me here: firstly, that this client behaviour still persists, even here in London in 2014. Despite clients having hefty budgets to spend on advertising, PR and marketing, they expect free, speculative work from small design shops.

Secondly, its no way to build a relationship with designers—it just breeds a culture of fear and loathing. What serious design buyer really wants these types of feelings brewing (sorry) in the minds of their creative solution providers?

Thirdly, and this is what makes my blood boil, there are actually design agencies willing to be prostituted (strong word, but can you think of another?) by such a brief to do free work for a beauty parade. It’s quite despicable that there is such a low sense of self esteem and desperation to get work, by giving it away to start with. If I wanted an electrician to rewire my house, I wouldn’t phone up three or four contractors and ask them all to wire up a light fitting for nothing, then choose who’d done the neatest job…would you?

I think it much better to meet a potential client, share some credentials and offer some views and a critique of the brand challenges—that’s giving enough away. It’s how we win our pitches. No compromises, ever. Personally I’d sooner shut up shop than pitch creative work (our craft) for nothing.

I’m getting very close to starting a campaign, a very vocal one, to fight this attitude—a campaign aimed directly at the industry, not the clients. After all, it’s not their fault they persist, it’s the designers’.