Saturday, 13 March 2010

Free pitching - a shared responsibility?

Things are definitely picking up but with the upturn comes the prospect of even more pitches and tenders and increasingly we are being asked for free creative. The free pitch debate has raged since before I came out of college a few centuries ago, and not much has changed. Public sector has a lot more red tape to cope with and, once you are through that, often you still have to free pitch. Private sector are requesting free pitching without the red tape but are asking more people to take part than the traditional three.

I do understand that with some new accounts the client will want you to demonstrate your creative abilities. This is so they can see that the past work you've shown could be created by the current team and also that you understand their business, especially if this is a new sector or market. However, if you have a track record (20 years for us), most companies can review your existing work, check bank details for solvency and take up references from existing clients. On this basis they should be able to select an agency or, if still undecided, select up to three agencies to tender for a project. Requesting more agencies than this for a creative tender means they don't appreciate the time and value of the bespoke work that will be wasted by all those that lose, not to mention the time they will need to spend to meet and review all this work. Requests for sealed creative tenders (must be close to 99% public sector procurement), without the agency even meeting the client, shows a complete lack of understanding of the process required to come up with strategic creative solutions.

If a solicitor or an accountant tenders for new business, they would meet the prospective client and give an indication or firm quotation of likely costs. As the client, you'd judge them on chemistry from the meeting, take personal recommendations or references to ensure they were suitable and you'd look at their track record and fees. Could we pick three accountants, ask them to present ideas for tax avoidance (not evasion) and produce our draft accounts for free  - we'd then pick the one that has given us the advice we like and proved they can prepare accounts? I think not.

There have been articles about the DBA working with government agencies and marketeers for an improved procurement processes but it is in all our interests to look for ways to improve the pitch processes. This is a shared responsibility between client and designer. We've won some and lost some but recently lost one where we needed to explain the cost of pitching to our client and try to persuade them to look at new ways of working with their agencies. We had already achieved a place on their roster, had been through brand inductions and had worked on several projects but had lost two fairly big unpaid creative tenders.

We explained that roster designers invest time in building knowledge of a client brand and how to successfully implement materials in both print and digital formats. This knowledge has a value and, as long as none of the roster agencies become complacent or over charge, by all working together they can each add value and proactively evolve and develop the client brand and communications.

Pitching is acceptable if it is paid for but if not, and work doesn't rotate, one or more of the roster agencies will soon face losses that can not be recouped through the other work they do for the client. The account becomes unsustainable, a line has to be drawn and the client potentially loses a valuable resource. The client needs to understand the value of their investment in these agencies - we think this knowledge and experience is well worth protecting.

Our view is that for any creative pitch some fee should be paid to all (three) agencies for their creative work. An agreed pitch fee, either split equally from the pot or with 50% for the win and 25% to the other two agencies, would promote a better platform from which to work. This demonstrates some client recognition and respect for the value of the work and the time spent. This may mean agencies accepting slightly less than the value of the work that is produced as part of a pitch but it does mean that all the agencies get some remuneration and the client isn't over exposed financially.

We strive to build long term partnerships with our clients but creative pitches hinder this, especially if they are requested again after an initial pitch. A solid relationship built on trust promotes joint proactive engagement, where the design agency and client share ideas and innovations beyond any written brief or project. The benefits of a long term working relationship are something that public sector tendering does not seem to recognise.

We have seen two recessions, been around long enough to know how to run our business and decide in which client accounts to invest our time and ideas. Many smaller design agencies are often led by creative output rather than financial remuneration. It's easy to take advantage of this, but these businesses will not survive without a careful balance of creativity and sound business sense. It is the responsibility of both the design agency and the client to ensure this balance is achieved and both will benefit in the long term.


Jacob Hill said...

I can understand were you are coming from. I have been in the print trade for 20 years (Not design) Quoting for print is easy. But what you have to do takes time

James Mattison said...

Completely agree with your sentiments here. As much as we'd all love to turn away all requests for pitches, it just isn't a commercially viable solution. Educating clients as to why agencies aren't able to give away their ideas for free is the solution and a pitch-fee helps to retain some degree of professionalism to the relationship.

I wrote a very quick blog on the same subject this week, check it out:

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