Our take on the (age-old) free pitch conundrum.

October 16th, 2018

Free pitching in the creative industries

Free pitches, speculative pitches or creative pitches – whatever you call them it’s a commonly held view in our industry that they are not a great method by which to choose a design agency.

Our creative director, Bobby Burrage, shares his thoughts on the matter:

In an ideal world we’d always get commissioned based on our reputation, experience and portfolio alone. Luckily for us, this happens more often these days compared to when we first opened our doors 15 years ago. That said, as all design agencies know too well, it’s sometimes a difficult and prolonged negotiation just getting to the start line of any new client project.

It doesn’t matter how many years of experience in the industry you accumulate, time and again we’re asked to pitch for free. Yes, free. Nothing, zero. Pitching for work can sometimes feel like a necessary evil and I openly confess to The Click having done some free pitches years ago. 

Spending hours, days, sometimes weeks on creating something special and considered for somebody else for absolutely no reward at all can be an utterly soul-destroying experience. Likewise, winning a pitch isn’t all joy either – it’s normally a sense of relief more than anything. When your only reward for winning a ‘free pitch’ is actually getting paid for what you deserve in the first place, it’s not really an occasion that warrants popping a cork.

I’ve always said: if an agency wins every other pitch they take on, you’d think that’s a good hit rate, right? When there’s typically three to five agencies pitching (sometimes more), winning 50% could be deemed an impressive ratio. In some ways it is, but another way of looking at it is, as an agency, you’re getting paid for 50% of that work. ‘Half price design’.

Over the years, as we grew in confidence we made a conscious decision to no longer pitch for free and concentrate on projects that inspire us and solely work with clients who want to work with us. Respect is an important factor in any relationship – client/agency, husband/wife, or otherwise.

Far better in our opinion is a ‘credentials pitch’ where the agency presents (in-person) case studies that demonstrate their ability to work successfully with clients to find the right solution. Such meetings can also provide opportunity for both parties to judge if there’s a good fit, the right chemistry or shared values.

Also it’s worth mentioning that some clients who have contacted us asking for us to free pitch have actually changed their minds after hearing our thoughts on the matter. We have won numerous ‘free pitches’ by not giving any creative work away – instead, we turned up and presented a selection of relevant case studies delivered for other clients and won the client’s trust through conversation, enthusiasm and passion for our craft.

It’s easy to point fingers at those clients who blindly bulk email design briefs to multiple agencies addressed ‘to whom it may concern’; going on to detail a long list of project deliverables; stating their immovable deadline and finishing up by explaining there’s no budget available for the pitch phase.

However, instead of blaming the client, we tend to think it’s our fault. As a design agency, we have the right to not only stand up for ourselves and adhere to our beliefs, but it’s also an opportunity to respect our wonderful industry – that we, as agency owners, collectively represent. Yes, sometimes it’s tempting to free pitch – whether it be for the profile of the client, the glitz and glamour of a project or simply the prospect of the cash. That’s why this post is referred to as a conundrum – it’s not always black and white.

At the end of the day, every creative agency is judged by one main factor – their work. From experience, our best work has been created for clients who believe in us, respect our opinion, value our advice and in turn trust us to be creative.

If you’d like us to deliver a credentials pitch for your organisation, please get in touch.

Learn more about Bobby.

View The Click’s branding portfolio.

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