Isn’t there a better way to buy design?

Growing numbers of designers are refusing to pitch for work. Not just unpaid pitches, any pitch at all. Pitching, they say, is bad for designers, bad for clients and produces bad work. They have a point

Growing numbers of designers are refusing to pitch for work. Not just unpaid pitches, any pitch at all. Pitching, they say, is bad for designers, bad for clients and produces bad work. They have a point

On Saturday I chaired a Q&A session with Stefan Sagmeister at the Cheltenham Design Festival. During our discussion, he revealed that his studio never pitches for work. ‘That’s all very well for a big name like Stefan Sagmeister’, you might think, ‘what about the rest of us?’ But Sagmeister revealed that refusing to pitch for work is becoming more and more common in the US. And there are sound reasons for doing so.

Sagmeister’s argument, and one that is shared by many, is that the pitch process is bad for designers, clients and the work. The work that usually ends up winning, he says, is not necessarily the best solution for the client but the best response to the brief in the pitch. Such briefs typically ask work to respond to a list of criteria: an identity must be ‘dynamic’, say, or reference ‘diversity’. So the respondents engage in a box-ticking exercise to address these criteria and the winner is the one that does it best.

Sagmeister cited the example of his studio’s Casa da Musica identity (above), which was the result of a direct commission. If it had come through a pitch, he said, he would never have been able to spend time with the client and fully understand the project and the resultant work would have been very different.

And then there is the problem of the pitch team versus the team that actually does the work. Larger design consultancies often put their best people on pitch teams, but when the actual work gets done, it’s not the A team but the B team that the client finds themselves dealing with. The A team are off pitching for more work. All this pitching is very expensive, meaning that a consultancy’s existing clients end up subsidising its search for new ones.

Given the choice, no doubt all designers would happily give up the tiresome and dispiriting business of pitching, even when they get paid for it, but what’s the alternative? An article by Blair Enns (who also wrote The Win Without Pitching Manifesto) for the AIGA website suggests a combination of ‘phased engagements’, opt-out clauses, money-back guarantees and case studies.

Clients can be re-assured, it says by offering them an alternative to total commitment in the first stage of a project. Instead, agree to carry out an initial phase (say, research) for a proportion of the total budget: after this, the client can opt out of any further engagement. You might even offer a money-back guarantee, it suggests somewhat optimistically.

Finally, the piece argues, you need to show how you work and how that process has delivered for clients in the past. “Take your defined process (that four or five step model on your website with the interlocking circles and the steps that all start with the same letter – usually ‘D’) and frame your case studies around it. When you show three different case studies that all use the same approach to problem solving the client will infer that little variability in process equals little variability in outcomes.”

But this article was written in 2005: designers complaining about and seeking relief from pitching, especially free pitching, is probably as old as design itself. And of course not all work comes in this way. But what is new is that buying design via competitions has become much more of an issue thanks to sites such as In order for designers to prove their worth in the face of this potentially hugely disruptive new model, perhaps the only way is to avoid contest-based mechanisms of acquiring work altogether.

Could there ever be a future where designers can ditch the pitch for good or is that just hopelessly wishful thinking?

Have any readers employed methods similar to those proposed in the AIGA piece? Or other alternative ways of working?

And does anyone think that pitches are actually the best way for design work to be commissioned?

What are the conditions needed for a good pitch process? After all, in our Top 20 Logos issue last year, the vast majority of the great marks featured came about through some form of competition.



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  • Jason Shinks

    Keeping what I think to myself.

  • Rob

    It would be nice wouldn’t it, but I can’t see this becoming a reality.

    I was speaking to a few chaps at from a London productions agency the other week. They were talking about a recent pitch where the client asked if they could chop £X amount off the proposed costs. They said this wasn’t possible and as a result lost the pitch. They later found out that the agency who won the job actually paid the client money to take the job (seeing this as an opportunity to get some nice work in their showcase). My point?

    Unfortunately the industry will always be inhabited by absolute idiots who can’t see further than three inches in front of them. They’ll be lurking somewhere behind the scenes holding everyone else back with their capitalist, quick draw McGraw attitudes and turd tinted glasses.

  • Mac

    “Ditch the Pitch” is no different to industrial action on the docks… someone will always cross the picket line (usually the less able of the workers I must add). I love the idea of this being adopted, but as long as the minority of people are willing to work for nothing, (and produce some bad design) they will perpetuate the clients belief of “I can get them to do what ever I like… and for free”. I spent the first three months of this year pitching. As a CD, this meant the rest of the agency work might not have been getting the attention that it should have. Those clients incidentally are the same clients that insisted on pitches when they were looking for representation… what goes around comes around I guess. For me I hate it… my best work seems to exist on coffee tables and bookshelves in bound books entitled “Pitch”.

  • Well said, Rob

  • Ed

    2 observations:

    Everyone’s said ‘There’s always someone else who’ll pitch’.
    No-one’s actually said why they still do.

    If you’re involved in a system that actively takes advantage of you and expects you to cut costs and/or pay money to the client to do work, then for god’s sake step out of the system. The only way you can be free of having to pitch for work is if you – not anyone else or all the other ‘less able workers’ – stop entering them.

    That’s a solution to becoming uninvolved with free pitching. As to the problem with getting new work/clients, “How can we get new work for those clients we admire?” is a better problem to solve than “how can we afford to keep doing work for free?”.

  • Matt

    This is why I quit working as a full time designer, this whole ugly side of design. Cheapness and ‘the easy route’ seemed to govern the plans of too many clients. What a dream it was to sometimes get a nice client.

    The hardest thing in design isn’t coming up with good ideas, it’s just getting people to pay for them.

    Funny how different the industry is when you actually get there compared to what you think it’ll be like whilst at uni, or growing up.

  • Rob

    That’s all well and good Ed, but it seems some sector’s are so saturated it’s impossible to escape no?

  • Naturally I just want to know what Jason thinks … It could be the answer we’re all looking for.

  • Big fan of Spiekermann’s approach —

  • Ed

    Rob I agree that there is a massive over-saturation in the design industry (both ‘high’ level and 99-logos-for-a-quid designers), but for me a major problem with the issue of having clients pay for work is that everyone seems to have given up even asking.

    It can’t be impossible to not work for free – just because there’s someone around the corner who’ll do it for free doesn’t mean they’ll make a good job of it. Getting clients to realise that is partially sticking to your guns (and maintaining your own standards) and saying ‘no’ when they ask you to do it for free, and partially allowing them to go to the free guys and see what sort of quality they get.

    If everyone in the industry is always serving the lowest common denominator (ie working for free) then there’s going to be very little difference in quality between free and reasonably paid – with a huge gulf between reasonably and highly paid (if highly paid even exists…). Time, then to reestablish the difference between free one-man-band operations and professional, high quality studios – not only in monetary but also in qualitative terms.

    But it’ll never happen if everyone keeps thinking either it’s impossible or that they won’t bother because no-one else will.

    What d’you reckon?

  • Tom Foulkes

    I think the key point here is that the pitch is bad for clients. Let’s drop the ‘don’t do it cos it’s bad for design and unfair/exploitative of agencies – the argument doesn’t work because there is always someone willing to ‘cross the picket line’.
    Arguing it is bad for clients, bad business, bad practice is MUCH more compelling. And conveniently it is true too.
    Either way only discussing it here isn’t going to help – this subject rarely finds its way out of the self-reinforcing echo chamber of designers and design enthusiasts.
    My suggestion is to go via the large trade organizations and encourage them to recognize that pitching = poor practice. Their members will soon jump into line – concerned they may miss a trick compared to their competitors.

    [Alternatively Patrick.B might you consider writing a feature or column for one of your sister titles? ie – a magazine read by (non-enthusiast) clients?]

    Not sure who would approach the trade org’s – UKTI, Design Council, DBA, BEDA, AIGA, CSD…?

    I’d happily help.

    Tom Foulkes (Arup) @tomfoulkes or

  • Peter

    Unfortunately the design industry, like many other things, is fast becoming a race to the bottom, where quality is reflected by how cheap something is, rather than how well it does its job.

    I agree with the sentiments of the article, perhaps something along the lines of the NOSPEC! campaign is needed.

    NOPITCH! anyone?

  • Jane Gilbert

    The “Will work for Free” epidemic is touching every industry. Most people like to think of themselves as a creative genius-it is even more amplified by the easy access to “on trend” intel that feeds their egos. The potential client also feels this false sense of being in the “know” and in the “now”. Widely used business practices are fading away, not because they are no longer valid, but because our sense of reality has changed. Everyone is a frickin expert in their minds. In reality they are all filled with snippets of incomplete info that may make them aware of many current topics and disciplines, but in no way makes them an authority on the subject. Pitch teams should know the $%&@ they are pitching and know it well.

  • dan

    I guess you just need to stick to your guns and decide on every job on its individual worth.

    We recently turned down a branding project as the client asked us to shave 20 percent of the quote to compete with another agency. They preferred our work but preferred the other guys price. We stuck to our guns and after working with the other agency for a month, they have come back to us – are paying full price and have gave us two further projects.

    Its about showing you are a professional who has worth and you are in a different league to the 99p designer.

    In short you get what you (or you don’t) pay for.

  • We think the ‘get what you pay for’ theory is as pertinent today as it ever has been.

    If the whole pitch ‘idea’ came from huge advertising agencies offering free creative on the back of vast media buying potential, then at least there was a large carrot to go for.

    Nowadays agencies are being asked to pitch against tens, and sometimes hundreds of other potential suitors for a few quid. For all of the reasons mentioned in this article – it’s short-sighed at best, and completely unethical at worst.

    But there are, and always will be agencies who accept this model, enjoy the competition, and feel they have nothing to lose.

    We disagree. There’s a lot to lose. Self-respect for one… Which is why we will never free pitch, and would rather go hungry than give our ideas away. It’s all we actually have to sell.

    Easy for a small start-up to say perhaps, without the large over-heads, etc, etc… But I think if we’re around several years down the line, I’d like to think we’ll have stuck to our guns and hold the same point of view.

  • While acknowledging that market forces mean that we will never eradicate free pitching the DBA strongly recommends to our members not to engage in the practice because:

    a) It’s a bad business model. Your ideas are what you sell – give them away for free, how can you make money?
    b) It’s an ineffective way to start a relationship with a client – developing solutions without a proper understanding of the clients needs can rarely lead to effective design

    We get regular updates from members moving to a strict no-free-pitching policy and the reaction is fantastic. Yes the client often walks away, but if you weren’t going to make much money that’s no loss is it? The stories of those same clients coming back a few months later wanting to work with the agency, or the agency being the only one paid for their pitch, or (best of all) a client understanding why it would be bad for them and converting to a credentials pitch.

    If you value what you do, don’t give it way for free, because then how can you expect the client to value it?

  • My firm lost a rebrand and new website pitch around 18 months ago for (and I quote) “…not including Google Analytics in our development proposal, despite being the preferred agency with the favoured creative strategy…”

    Looks like we had ticked all but one box…

  • geo

    Wow this argument is so important but is also very old. There was a great document written called Pitch vs productivity several years ago which is highly recommended if you can find it.

    My experience has been up and own and all over. I never did free pitching before in the early days, although I did do low paid/free work for friends to build portfolio. When my studio got big and we had large overheads we found ourselves pitching much more – you have mouths to feed, some of it was paid (BBC) but a lot wasn’t. I meet young companies who say they never pitch but I doubt it will always be like that.

    I also tried approaching companies who put out pitch to reassess why they are doing it this way and to choose companies on past work and also just have a meeting to get to know their potential designers – didn’t work. they said they had no time to do it that way.

    These new competitions are in some ways even worse. I even saw Nesta had one for some wall artwork recently apparently giving “great exposure” for your work – more likely giving them free art for their walls.

    Leaving the industry is probably the best idea….

  • I think it’s worth looking this from a client perspective. Without whom — we are all out of a job.

    Commissioning anything unknown is a daunting business.

    How do you know that the wooden floor will look great throughout the house?

    Will those curtains really work?

    Getting a bespoke suit made for the first time is probably a little like trying to work with a design company — how do you know it’ll work? After all, you only see a tiny square of cloth before you decide to make the suit…

    When we commissioned the new crest for the Royal Opera House (above) — we did everything we could to guarantee a fantastic outcome… hired the worlds finest woodcutter, research deeply the heraldry, work side by side as each drawing improved upon the next… but even then, we couldn’t be sure everything would be perfect… until we saw the final print come off the press… then it was time to celebrate!

    We really love meeting new people, talking about how we can help — showing what we have done for other brands — but ultimately it all comes down to one thing: How does the person who needs something ‘creative’ know — really know — that they are hiring the right company for the job.

    After all creativity is a slippery thing. If it could be guaranteed, you can bet Hollywood would have it corked and bottled. But no, creativity is really ‘not knowing’ — one can never be 100% sure that the new idea is going to work.

    You can surround that new idea with enough rigor and experience to ensure it has the very best chance. That’s what we do with our work… inject a spark of creativity into a strong, proven, reliable and effectively managed framework.

    But the fact remains… it’s tough for the people commissioning this exciting stuff — it’s their neck on the line.

    So, how do you decide on who to hire to create your new branding/packaging/brochure/creative task.

    Check ‘Do you have a shared agenda with your potential agency?’ If you need (or are likely to need) a rapid turnaround… Is your agency able to react fast? More importantly, does your agency have a similar outlook to you? If you are a young company (or an old one needing an injection of new thinking) a younger agency, is likely to serve you better. Bigger, traditional groups have bigger traditional processes. Smaller, younger groups are often more flexible and have the ability to turn things around more swiftly (and with more creativity applied)

    Ask: ‘What is it you actually do?’ Is the team you meet on the day, the one that’s going to do the work? I’ve lost count the amount of times clients have asked us this. We build processes and teams around clients needs and when three senior people turn up to the pitch, there’s often the feeling of ‘well, thanks for the effort, but clearly this is all for show, we’re obviously never going to see you again!’ — to the point where we have actually signed contracts guaranteeing our involvement in the project! It’s right to be suspicious here though. The classic trick of sending the dazzling creatives to the pitch, then using the intern to work on it day to day is alive and well in the bigger agencies…

    Sorry, but in the creative industries size doesn’t matter. If it was my money, I’d want to be paying for the talent behind the ideas, not their foyer. Technology really has changed the game. You simply don’t need as many people to create a global brand identity anymore. That said, when it comes to throwing resources at projects in trouble, the larger companies will always claim to have the edge. After all, with over 100 people under the same roof, it’s not going to be tough to call in some last minute help (even if it is the receptionist!) If a project is run well you should never need this approach. In my experience you simply need a core team of about 6 people — and that’s on a multi-million pound Advertising campaign, or a small website. As long as you have half a dozen experienced people on side, you can pretty much handle anything.

    Asking for Creative work is a terrible idea for pitches. If you like the people, like the process they suggest, don’t mind the fee, and think their back catalogue of work qualifies them as paid up professionals, then give them a chance to prove themselves — by actually working with you. A pitch generally takes around four weeks. That’s a month with perhaps 2–3 meetings. In that time, an agency can’t really get under the skin of the brief sufficiently to blow your socks off (or even to have a genuinely educated point of view) — it’s only by actually working together on the project that you will discover if they are right for you.

    Free pitches are fine. (that one will probably get me shot by the Designeratti — but read on! There’s sense to this…) Danny Boyle told me that when he did Slumdog Millionaire he found getting funding really tough. Really? With his back catalogue? Yup, ‘every time you start from scratch,’ he said, ‘past performance counts for nothing.’ Same with any creative endeavour — however, Danny went on to say that while the creative output changed each time, it was the processes and strategies that helped him pull off his past films that remained constant, it was these principles that got him the commitment of cash. The agencies process and strategic thinking should be enough for you to make a decision on who to hire. Any decent creative shop should be turning these out daily and find them a doddle. A fee for this is a joke.

    I know it’s a nightmare choosing an agency. Everyone says they are different, yet you’ve just seen almost the exact same diagram 3 times that morning from the other groups.

    Ultimately it really is like buying a bespoke suit (with all the fear that goes with parting with significant funds for something everyone says you can just buy off the shelf these days):

    • Make sure you talk to the tailor, not his accountant.

    • Check it really is cashmere you are paying for.

    • It’s all about the suit, not the street the shop is on.

    • Want a trendy cut? Need a classic three piece? Check attitude fits.

    • If you can, try it on and get comfy before committing to it.

    • Don’t be pressured into paying to see his past work, but do give him a good tip if he lets you take some cloth samples home.

    Free pitching, and pitching isn’t going away. The bold few clients who commission directly are a rarity.

    However CREATIVE pitches are a disaster and should be avoided like comic sans.

  • This discussion reminds me a little of the time I went to an RCA ‘away-day’ with the tutors and they looked astounded when I explained that we would regularly spend many months interviewing our clients, agreeing strategy and a ‘verbal’ basis for a project before we start designing.

    But, it’s true. If you spend 90% of your time doing identity and branding, no-one asks you to pitch visual ideas (well, not many) because that would be patently ridiculous to propose a visual solution before you’d even agreed the brief, or worked out what the real problem was.

    Now, no-one’s going to ‘give away’ a large identity project without at least discussing it with 3 or 4 major players. And it’s at in those meetings that we and our competitors have to demonstrate a degree of insight into the problem at hand. Otherwise we don’t get the job. It’s obvious.

    But, in my experience, any client who asks at that ‘chemistry’/strategic stage for some ‘initial designs’ doesn’t really understand how design works, or the value of thoughts and verbal insights in those first stages. Hence they’re often not worth working with. Hence saying no.

    Michael Johnson, johnson banks

  • At our agency we have the particular problem of the ‘bigger’ agencies thinking it’s ok to offer pro bono work in our sector for any or all of the reasons below

    – off set the guilt from some of their less reputable clients
    – provide staff with a sweetener project from their normal corporate drudge
    – give them something to PR themselves with

    I’m all for some volunteering to supplement other peoples work, but all the arguments against free pitching above are just as true about this kind of pro bono project (as some of our clients who’ve called us in to clear up the mess after a pro bono would testify!)

    As is pointed out the free pitch discussion is as old as design itself but it’s important we keep having it as other countries prove – it is winnable!

  • While getting on here may be cathartic, as many have said, taking direct action and refusing to pitch will always leave you outside the process while others participate.

    Sagmeister’s insight is that what you do for the pitch is not what’s good for the job. So, why not separate the two? The pitch system doesn’t work for either party, so why accept that the pitched work is what’s done when it’s won? Once you’re in the tent, it’s a different discussion.

    Why not perfect (i.e. reduce costs) a way of doing pitches–tell them what they want to hear–and then go back in and do the work properly once it’s been won. Treat it like a driving test–a necessary evil that you forget the moment it’s over.

    Like industrial disputes, nuclear disarmament, and curbing global banking greed, unilateral action is pointless. Better to find a way of working (gaming) the system in order to marginalise it. If and when the results of doing the work properly are seen to be better, clients will begin to lose faith in the pitch system.

    And make sure you use organs like this to champion the different approach.

    Remember that clients are in a complex, fast-moving market that’s baffling to them. They want better work but don’t necessarily know how to get it. I’m sure they’d welcome a better way if it were shown to them.

  • A discussion that has been going for years and will continue to do so… sadly.

    Personally I don’t believe in free pitching if creative work is involved. I agree with what Simon has said and feel the work produced for a pitch isn’t the same as the ultimate correct end solution, this can only be achieved in collaboration with the client and having insight which you rarely get at a pitch stage.

    Free pitching on credentials & having a meeting to discuss the project and get a feel on chemistry is acceptable and the point I draw the line.

    Previously I pitched for a project that was about £100k and typically we were asked to free pitch our creative “solutions”, I refused but offered a challenge to the prospective client. I’d seen the work already pitched and thought none of it was right, so I offered to do a small part of the project for a fee of about £4k, if they were impressed we got the whole project, if not they got the work we had done and we got our fee.

    Result. We got the whole project.

    The thing is for any client it’s a risk and our job is to minimise the fear of that risk. To some clients £1k is a risk, to others it might be £1 million… Our role as professionals is to be paid so never produce creative ideas for free but learn how to reduce the risk for a new client.

  • In 100% agreement with ditch the pitch. The same logic applies to advertising too.

  • GN

    This week I experienced a way of pitching which could be described as below standards. An ad agency had the opportunity to pitch identity concepts to a client. Instead of the agency doing the work themselves, they pitched work that they made candidates in the latter part of their interview process do, whilst pocketing the payment.

  • Mark

    Simple. Take the Hegarty approach. BBH was defined by the idea of no creative pitches, just strategy and your work to back it up.

  • Nathan Hornby

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

    The pitching process (generally) demonstrates the ability of a client manager.

    The exception to this is when the creative team is involved in the pitch, which generally involves spec work; also bad.

    Either way it’s a bad practice, and the sooner it’s removed from our industry the better. Paying for work adds value to both parties, no one is really benefiting from this archaic practice.

    And besides, most pitches are just powerpoint versions of a website; redundant sleep-inducing information that’s already available to the client.

  • Helen C

    It’s a joke. In most other industries it would be treated as such. Imagine asking 3 different builders to decorate your downstairs rooms, one room each, for free, then saying you’d pay the best one to do the top of the house afterwards?!

    Unthinkable. So why is it different for us designers?

  • Literally this very week I heard back from a friend who was one of 3 invited to pitch for a new ‘rich person’s charity’ identity, launch programme and materials.

    The other 2 parties were us and an ex-employee who left us 18 months ago to set up on their own.

    When I heard the ex-employee was in the frame I knew it was a waste of time – while this designer was with us they worked for a client of ours who sits as a consultant with the new charity, and when they left us they took that client with them.

    I voiced my concern that inevitably they’d give the work to a good freelancer at half the normal studio rates but the client assured me it was a totally level playing field and costs would not figure in the scoring in any way. I also told my friend I was going to decline, giving my reasons. The client wasn’t very happy, but my concerns were vindicated as the work went to my ex-employee.

    My friend running the other studio wasted considerable time and resources pitching for work he had no chance of winning, and I must confess I found the whole experience very depressing, but thank God I didn’t waste any precious time on the free pitch.

  • Nathan Hornby

    @Simon Manchipp

    Good analogy. but I think that it’s flawed.

    How do you know what you’re getting? Easy, look at the tailors past work. See what suits he’s made, discuss the suit with him and see what he thinks.

    No different for the creative industry; you’ll have a show-reel, or a website, or a brochure, whatever; point being you can demonstrate your abilities without jumping through hoops.

    Would you invite 5 tailors into your office and ask them to ‘pitch’ for your suit? Of course not, it would be ridiculous, and in my eyes this is no different to buying a website, or a brand, or an ad campaign.

    If you’re a client, it’s easy. Pick a handful of agencies you think you’d like to work with. Discuss your project with them and get a feel for them, start a relationship. If it goes well, bite. Getting their client manager to stand up in front of a few stakeholders and talk bullsh*t for an hour doesn’t add any value to the process.

    Incidentally there are shifts; the landscape is changing, you just won’t notice it if you’re working with the same dinosaur clients.

  • Alexis

    For some, pitching seems to be a way of getting more than you want to pay for.

    It seems all too common for a client to pick a designer and then feed them the ideas that they liked from the losers to their chosen supplier. Then the losing designer sees the work he failed to win the pitch on incorporating HIS ideas.

  • Just say no. Really.

    We did it several years ago and have never regretted it. The amount of time and grief we have saved is more than worth any work we may have lost.

    Anybody who cares about design should not take part in a free pitch. We all know that’s true – so stand by your convictions – it makes you feel better!

  • Dan

    I’m almost exclusively doing photography now and I sure as heck don’t miss pitching. No other industry does it. I think we as creatives are so fragile that the thought of standing up to potential clients is so terrifying that we can’t do it. Time to stop being delicate flowers and start acting like mighty oaks. Just say no. However, I tried it a couple of times and look where it got me? Moving from design to photography. There, it really is your portfolio that counts. I recommend it!

  • Tim Smith

    ‘Life’s a pitch’ for us designers!

  • Pete

    If your business sells ideas for a living, why the hell would you give ideas away for free?

    I (try to) work on a phased basis with my clients – smaller chunks of work, smaller commitments. At each stage, they know how much the next part will cost, leaving no nasty surprises for them or me. In the most part, it works well, but there are always clients who simply won’t work this way. It’s horses for courses.

    My guess is that most of us are so ingrained with the pitch process, we don’t even try to look for alternatives. We just accept them and then moan about it.

    We all need to insist on alternative methods (I’d suggest the ‘win without pitching manifesto’ as the best starting point) and stick to our guns – otherwise we’ll all be working for free for many years to come.

  • I have been banging on about this for years! I’ve managed to survive in the design industry for 40 years now. Frankly every free or even funding pitch I have ever entered into has led to disaster. The key word is commitment. If the client is committed to you as a designer – then there is a mutual interest in getting the brief and the design right.

    You need to build in a 50:50 ‘rejection’ clause whereby… ‘in the unlikely event that the design is not adopted’ – then an agreed fee is still payable. This has to be worded carefully to ensure that the client’s rejection decision is not merely subjective. If it fulfils the brief – then the fee is payable. Both parties entered into the contact with equal risk.

    Let those who want to chase ambulances carry on. For the rest of us – stick to your guns.

    Nigel Abbey
    Nigel Abbey Design Consultants

  • James Harradence

    Not only is this the right path, there is someone who can help –

  • William Rudling

    Yes, ditch it!.

    Have tried to get a plumber to pitch for the job? Fit a sample radiator, if I like you’ve got the job!

    William Rudling
    Freelance Designer-Ilustrator.

  • Neil

    It’s a necessary evil, it will never go away.

    What gets my goat is;

    Losing a pitch when all we heard from the client was “Oh your creative was the BEST we saw”, only to find out we lost on cost to a smaller (less capable) agency AND six months later said smaller agency launches work that was remarkably similar to our pitch work.

    Odd that.

  • Sophie

    Really interesting to hear the pitch/don’t pitch debate still raging on.

    Surely the answer is simple: don’t give your work away for free because when people get free stuff they don’t tend to value it.

    It degrades the quality of the work, the morale of the teams involved, the client/agency relationship and, most importantly, our industry.

    Surely this is a no-brainer? Why are some agencies so desperate to perpetuate this idiotic practice?

  • GF

    This sums up pitches for me – My agency just did a five way pitch for a branding project on a global sports event, we got through to the final 2 beating off all the big London boys and ‘blew the client away’.
    However, we never won and this is why pitching can be bad.

    The CEO of the organisation wanted to work with the existing agency where the owner is a friend and has overruled the marketing person we were liaising with and who organised the pitch, the existing agency already pitched ideas a couple of weeks prior to the pitch being arranged and the ideas were disliked, we came in spent 3 days on the work and they loved it, the existing agency then were able to have a second crack at it and came back with a further 6 concepts. We never got the opportunity to have a second attempt for one reason or another, possibly due to the relationships these two businesses owners had.

    All agencies who participated in this pitch totally wasted their time and this happens a lot.

  • Richard

    Pitching is a beauty contest, a power trip for the buyer, a neurotic nightmare for the seller and every time you do one a little part of your soul dies. Avoid it, walk away, save your work for someone who values it.

    Sadly, the nature of business means sometimes you can’t walk away, so brace yourself, accept it’s a dumb process, don’t bleat on about it, and win or lose, keep your integrity in tact.

  • Luckily only one out of 10 customers invites us for a pitch. Others want to sit and discuss the project first.
    Our chance in getting the job is a lot bigger when having the chance to sit in person.

    Just sit with the customer together with one or two people of the creative team is our preferred way.

  • Tom

    I agree. Showing what processes that you delivered to your clients in the past builds trust and assurance with customers that often times produces more potential than any other marketing venue can.

  • Money back guarantees in the design industry sound like a bad idea.

  • It’s wonderful that designers are even able to broach the idea that ‘the pitch’ doesn’t have to be the only means by which to secure work. For some other creative professions, it’s still the only way to get yourself noticed and hopefully, chosen.

    More musings on ‘the pitch’ from the perspective of a writer and not a designer, coming off some advice given by Creative Review’s own deputy editor, Mark Sinclair, earlier this year in a lecture he gave to the MA Design Writing Criticism students at the London College of Communication:

  • We are on the client site: a client of (Gerwin van de Feijst) I’m sure a pitch is also no good for the client and the work . Clients will focus on price. It’s such a creactive process and working together with your designer is so important. The feeling you get while discussing the project and the way of thinking along should make you decide who to choose. So please sit down and discuss the project!

  • Well said. More often than not, the pitch devalues and commoditizes the creative effort. Some learned readers have said it before me — it’s a no brainer. To other learned readers who say that the client doesn’t have a choice, I suggest this — why not have milestone-linked deliverables to mitigate risks (as is common in software and manufacturing industries)? In many cases, designers/agencies would have a portfolio to showcase experience, most designers come with strong personalities so you get to know early on if there is chemistry.

    Barring these decision making variables, what remains for the pitch process to satisfy is mostly internal organizational politics.

  • If the pitch is unpaid, we have a no pitch policy. Why?

    1. I prefer to work with my clients, not at them
    2. We can’t interact in the right way with the client because they’re having to hold back
    3. It doesn’t commercially incentivise companies to out their best talent on the job
    4. I know that many pitches are not run well and don’t wish to be part of that

    On that last point, I’ve been told a number of times that commissions we’ve been approached for will be put out to pitch…. “But don’t worry, it’s your work, we just need to satisfy procurement by showing we ran one”.

  • When it’s a competition or a contract client you have the choice of turning them down or not to participate, but when it’s a full/part time job application when you go through a regular interviewing process, you come home, send a thank you note and happily wait to be invited to a second interview and than you receive a nightmarish email from them asking you for a redesign of their company’s website or to do a free “test project”, that they will shamelessly use later on as their own and sell it to their customer….than we have a huge problem on our hands.

  • I think that a money back guarantee sounds like a good idea in this business

  • Balwant

    I never believed in pitching ideas. I did it once at the age of 24 and decided never to do it again. It felt cheap and totally against my philosophy of not giving away ideas for free unless its for charity… So to all you cheap corporations trying to take free ideas off creatives – screw you and shame on you for being so damn cheap…

  • Daniel

    We really have to man up to clients and get on the same page if we wan’t to eradicate this. “United we stand, divided we fall.”

  • Marc

    Ditching the pitch in favour of yet more paperwork sounds like nothing but a recipie for a headache, although I agree that free pitching should stop after stage one.

    It’s up to agencies to decide how much they put into pitching – it can really separate who really wants the work reatively – and who’s out for the cash. I know for a fact that if I really wanted to work with a client, I’d pull out all the stops to make sure my work was better. End of story.

    Besides, if you’re worried that your ideas won’t blow your competitors out of the water, why bother?

  • Kim

    I don’t like pitching and it should not be possible that the bigger companies ask for it. Everybody loses a lot of money with pitching.

  • CD

    would i go into a posh restaurant and ask for a free meal because i wanted to try it out first…
    Gordon Ramsey would tell me to go f myself

    so why do clients think its ok to get great ideas for free??
    we can always say no, right? then we give the relationship a really decent chance to grow into a healthy one of
    equality from the beginning.

    By always agreeing we are in fact saying that we don’t deserve to get paid and we are not worthy,
    to me its all getting out of hand and clients are just becoming abusive partners

    so lets stop it now and wise up – if we don’t agree to their demands – we can start to put some real value back into design

    its a proven fact that people value things more if you put a price tag on it

  • I think i don’t agree with this article