This is an age old debate in the creative sector and one that raises discussions about the value of creativity as well as designers blood pressure.

The scenario is usually this – a company requires a design company’s skill to develop the organisations presentation to their market. This may the design of a website, advertising campaign or an across the board audit of their brand. For some reason, historically, it has been acceptable to call up a number of consultancies and ask them for their advice, by presenting them with a brief and organising a presentation to take place where the siad consultancies would troop in, one after the other and present their ideas. At this stage it is normal for little or no indication of the projects budget to have been discussed. Dutifully the 3 or more designers will leave their proposals along with an estimate of costs to be reviewed.

A few days later one of the designers will be called and asked back to discuss the project further. The others will be told that although their presentation was of interest and created some lively debate among the panel, and it was a very hard decision, on this occassion, unfortunatley, you were unsuccessful, but we will keep your details on file for future reference.

Two easy to understand reasons why we don’t do free pitches for work and why it is not only bad for us but a really bad idea for any company asking designers to participate.

1 – it’s not free!

The winning agency will claw back the cost of the time they spent on the pitch through the work they are eventually commissioned to do, this means the client is paying more than they should be for each individual project through inflated mark ups and over estimated time sheet hours.

The only thing the client is getting for free is the work they have rejected from the other agencies that they asked to pitch.

2 – Free creative pitching favours weaker agencies!

The slickest, best-rehearsed agency with the most work to present must be the best choice?

Not necessarily.

A strong agency is a busy agency, but a less busy agency has more time to prepare, thoughts, words and designs. Sometimes the amount they have produced and presented can distract from the thinking and the ideas behind the visuals.

The solution

Clients – do your homework, research your potential agencies, talk to them.
Find out if there is a fit?
Do you like what they do for other companies?
Are they familiar with your sector?
Can you afford their rates?

Set aside a budget and approach each agency you feel you could work with to see if they are happy to contribute to a paid pitch.
Any right thinking agency will want to weigh up the odds. So be prepared to answer questions such as;
What is the estimated value of the project on offer?
How many agencies will be asked to pitch?
Who are they?

You cannot expect to receive a complete solution from a free pitch so use any type of beauty contest you wish to engage in, just as that. To discuss, with each consultancy, the approach they took to a specific task. This way you can evaluate their thinking, creativity, production and resourcefulness in action and compare eggs with eggs.

If this hasn’t changed your way of thinking, next time you fancy a meal out, ring up 3 or more restaurants and ask them to prepare a meal each to satisfy your dietry requirements, making it clear to them that you will pay for the one you enjoy the most. Good luck!