Design and the free creative pitch: an agency view

According to a 2017 survey of over 450 design buyers*, while nearly 90 per cent saw the role of design as key to a brand’s success and regard the quality of UK design consultancies as ‘very high’, almost 70 per cent say they would not expect to pay for a creative pitch. Seemingly the free creative pitch remains a process endemic within our industry – a process that in our view, is, quite simply, bad for designers, bad for clients and bad for the work they produce together.

This is why:

  1. Any creative response will at best be an ill-informed solution to a (possibly hastily pulled-together) brief, and, by definition, constructed from a narrow understanding of the client and the market, without a true appreciation of the actual solution required.
  2. If you think about it logically, the quality of any creative response will reflect the amount of time the agency has spent on the pitch. In any busy, successful agency, this will not be a great amount of time and, in many cases, can lead to a ‘formulaic’ approach that cares less about the client and more about ‘getting something out’.
  3. Are you actually getting who you think you’re getting? Many agencies use freelancers just to pitch. They pay a fee for a couple of days of ideas or a fixed-fee brainstorm. You might get your agency, but it could be you’ll never actually see or work with the person that won the pitch in the first place.
  4. Creative solutions and suppliers chosen in this way can be dangerous for the client. They can lead to decisions based on a fleeting reflection on the issues or simply on personal taste, rather than on considered commercial or marketing sense.
  5. Free creative is never really free. There are always costs associated with creative pitching: pitches use up valuable creative resources, tie up designers’ time, and incur costs which many smaller agencies can ill afford. And indeed, agencies (shock, horror) will generally try to recover the cost of a response through subsequent work.
  6. In agreeing to do a free pitch, agencies are effectively giving up far more than their ideas; they are also sacrificing their ability to do their best work.

In conclusion

In our view, a more considered appraisal of the most important criteria is far more effective. Speak to the selected agencies, how is the chemistry? Look a their creative track records, their online presence, their thinking , approach and rates. That’s how to successfully select your next design partner and get the best value from your design budget.

* The What Clients Think 2017 report was conducted by advice consultancy Up to the Light, in association with the Design Business Association (DBA). They interviewed clients ranged across sectors including food and drink, fashion, government, education, finance, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, charities, automotive, and tech and software.