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Paid presentations not free pitches

Wayne McMaster

13 August 2015

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

Definitions

A pitch is commonly defined as: ‘to try to sell or promote something such as a product, personal viewpoint or potential business venture, often in an aggressive way.’

Pitching is any practice that involves the speculative or competitive provision of design services (including concepts) for a commercial client that results in the designer receiving or charging less than their normal professional rates for work that is intended or likely to be commercially realised or in an attempt to win new business.

Interestingly, (for us), pitch is also defined as: ‘to fall or stumble, especially headfirst.

Where did pitching originate?

Pitching in the design world probably originated as a spin-off from the advertising industry. For better or worse, both are popularly regarded as being in the ‘creative’ domain, and therefore the methods used in the advertising industry for appointing new business were extended into design.

However this neatly overlooked the fact that traditional advertising agencies could better afford the many costs of pitching, as they made a substantial portion of their income from additional media commissions. Design studios have no likelihood of gaining media commissions and cannot afford the costs of pitching – even aside from the philosophical issues involved.

Reasons Against free-pitching

There are plenty of reasons we could mention why as members of the DBA we try to educate prospective clients into reconsidering the pitch process, away from the free-pitch to something more consultative and long-term:

  • Pitching usually delivers work designed to please, rather than what actually works.
  • Pitching dramatically undercuts the financial viability of a design business, both in the short and long term.
  • Pitching aggressively devalues the critical intellectual component inherent in all design.
  • By devaluing individual designers or their businesses, pitching denigrates the design industry as a whole and makes it significantly harder for all designers to obtain a financially viable living.
  • Pitching is almost entirely designed to deliver short term financial benefit to the client, at the direct expense of the designer.
  • Pitching almost always involves superficial, poorly conceived design briefs that are virtually useless as ‘real’ design practice for inexperienced designers.
  • Pitches are often ‘assessed’ by the client according to highly subjective guidelines that may bear no relation to realistic design principles whatever.
  • Pitching emphasises the 'creative' aspect of design and suggests a poor understanding of the technical, commercial and marketing related values that designers bring to projects.
  • By its very nature, pitching often attracts inexperienced, less qualified designers to the process, resulting in a higher likelihood of substandard work and a poor image of the design profession.
  • There is no such thing in any business as a free lunch – the unavoidable costs to the designer of pitching must inevitably be paid by clients somehow, sometime – either ‘factored in’ to other design work or ‘retrieved’ in some other area of the design job.
  • Pitching sets up an exploitative business and working relationship between the designer and client from the very start, which is bound to cause further difficulties and result in poor design outcomes.

A more balanced view can be seen in our other post on this subject "No to free pitching".

A different way

So what is the alternative? Well the DBA have kindly allowed us access to share their documentation to help support enquiring prospects and would-be clients of ours, along with readers of this blog. Below is a list of downloadable resource pdfs outlining the various stages involved in commissioning an agency like ourselves.

  1. Getting Started - Download here
  2. Writing your design brief - Download here
  3. Agency Selection guide - Download here
  4. Pitch Guide - Download here
  5. Pitch Brief - Download here
  6. Pitch score sheet & Feedback templates - Download here
  7. Asking for a proposal document - Download here
  8. Proposal score sheet - Download here

 

The Good pitch

Another useful resource is The Good Pitch—a joint industry initiative which brings together client and agency representative organisations to tackle the issue of pitching and best practice pitch processes. The Good Pitch microsite: www.thegoodpitch.com hosts outputs from the Good Pitch Taskforce including: 6 Pitch Principles for use by agencies and clients; results of research carried out regarding pitch practices; and an overview of the Pitch Alternatives identified.

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