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No to Free Pitching

Wayne McMaster

27 February 2014

As members of the DBA we have signed up to the practise of not entering into free creative pitches with prospective clients.

To appreciate the 'damage' such a commissioning mistake creates we though we would share a recent blog from the DBA's own website, an interview between John Scarott, DBA Membership Director and Tom Foulkes, Marketing Director of Peter Brett Associates about how he buys design expertise.

'Tom has a compelling argument against the value of speculative creative work. Here's the advice he'd give to other clients.

Selecting and appointing a new design partner is one of the most important elements of what we do.

To be effective, relationships with agencies should be built for the long term.

We need to be sure that the partnership will work and not just for us as the client but also for the agency.

We focus on five key areas to help us make this judgment - The Five C's:

  1. Credentials
  2. Capability
  3. Creative
  4. Chemistry
  5. Cost

We look to gather hard evidence across these five areas. The way we gather this hard evidence is through a Credentials Pitch. Essentially this boils down to a series of meetings with a small number of (usually no more than five) suppliers. None of these meetings require any of the agencies to produce any original creative.

This differs to the traditional methodology for selecting a new design partner, which unfortunately more commonly sees clients ask suppliers to produce creative work as evidence of their ability to undertake the work; the Creative Pitch as it has become known. We believe this method leads to poor decisions and may undermine the commercial strength of our organisation. Fundamentally, we believe the creative pitch is commercially toxic and is a tradition the marketing profession can do without. Commercially toxic may sound a little over the top but here are some of the potential hidden consequences of the creative pitch that can have a negative impact on a business, post decision:

- The creative will be naïve and hastily pulled together. It will be based on a very narrow understanding of you, your market and the true nature of what is required. Creative like this is dangerous to share within a business as it can lead to commercial decisions being made on the basis of taste rather than commercial sense. This ultimately may lead to your own commercial failure
- It isn't free creative, the cost of producing this work will be recovered through the subsequent work you do, the agency will likely resent giving their work away for free and this dysfunction will undermine and ultimately destroy your commercial partnership. A failure in such a vital strategic relationship may lead to your own commercial failure
- The quality of any creative produced will only reflect the amount of time the agency has spent on the pitch. In any successful agency this will not be a great amount of time, unless the agency is struggling to win work. This will lead to poor decision making as it is likely that you appoint a poor agency with lots of time to spend on your pitch over the strongest agency who was busy with fee paying work in the lead up to the pitch. Ultimately this will affect your competitiveness and may lead to your own commercial failure

To demonstrate why the credentials pitch works better for us in comparison to the creative pitch John draws a comparison between the two methodologies:

  Credentials Pitch Creative Pitch
Credentials Has this company got a track record of:
1. Working successfully within my sector? and/or
2. Have they worked on similar projects (in any sector) successfully?
Short outline of work done for other clients – usually focused on blue chip clients and household names
This approach gives you good practical evidence of relevant capabilities and expertise This will not give you any kind of deep insight into the role the agency played or the difference they made
Capability What are the agency’s processes? How have they codified what they do and how they do it? What is their creative process; their planning process; and strategic, insight and research process? How do they intend to apply these processes to the work I need them to do? How will they manage shocks to these? n/a
This gives you a depth insight into how your project will be handled and how they are able to repeat with you the successes they have outlined above You have no way of judging whether any work they have done is a result of luck or judgment
Creative Does the company have a ‘house-style’? Is this suitable for my brand? If there is no clear house style have they demonstrated a suitable breadth of creative to indicate they would be able to transfer their creative skills to my brand?

Do I think the creative the agency has done on my brief will work?

Do I like what I see?

Am I excited and engaged by the creative?

Do my colleagues agree?
This gives you a good measure of whether the agency is suitable for your kind of work Whilst you have something tangible you can use to show colleagues and judge the different work it will be creative based on a shallow understanding of you and your market.
From a client perspective this element of the creative pitch is commercially toxic (see why below)
Chemistry Do the people I have met get on and can I get on with these people.
1. Is there a natural affinity between the team who are presenting?
2. Between my team and them?
Do the people I have met get on and can I get on with these people.
1. Is there a natural affinity between the team who are presenting?
2. Between my team and them?
One of the key aspects of the client/designer relationship is partnership, ascertaining that you will get on with the creative team is vital (and often overlooked) One of the key aspects of the client/designer relationship is partnership, ascertaining that you will get on with the creative team is vital (and often overlooked)

Are the outline costs (daily rates) and indicative timelines going to work for my budget?

Does the detailed estimate fit with out budget?
Combined with the information you gleaned as part of ‘Capability’ and perhaps also an outline project plan, this gives you the info you need to judge as to whether this agency is a good fit for you in regard to your budget A detailed estimate pulled together as part of a pitch is dangerous. The estimate will be likely to be full of inaccuracies as it is based on only a shallow understanding of you and the work required. It is also likely to attract various inducements and ‘loss-leaders’ aimed at attracting the decision to made in favour of the agency


Source: DBA.

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