Friday, 7 December 2007

Free pitching.

By free pitching I mean it is the process where design agencies produce design work for no money this is either as a speculative proposal or for a particular tender that is open to a public tendering process. Within the design industry free pitching has now become commonplace for large tenders, and now it is even creeping into smaller jobs. Free pitching probably began when too many design agencies grew too quickly. Then when work got scarce, agencies would ask their designers to produce work speculative design pieces to try and gain that elusive new client. So from this small beginning oak trees are made. Agencies are now being asked to produce work for free time and time again. During a year an agency could lose anything from 10,000-500,000 pounds in wasted time. Time that could be used on paid work. Now that free pitching has become the norm, companies who send out these tenders do not think there is anything wrong with asking agencies to work for free. For companies it is an easy ride as they get to see visuals/designs before they have to choose an agency. The design market place does not help the situation, with new design agencies setting up all the time. These companies have to get work anyway they can, and while not ideal free pitching does allow them to compete on an equal playing field against more established agencies. Working on these free pitches is always a balancing act because although if you were to win the tender then the rewards would be great it is anything but a certainty, so working on such tenders has to be fitted in between paid work.

So are clients really getting the best from these agencies?

The answer seems to be a resounding no. The frustration coming from the agency having to produce work in between paid jobs surely subliminally comes through in the work they produce for the tender. It also devalues the whole design industry, unlike other industries it is our creativity and ideas that we sell rather, not a physical product. So if we give this away for free, then it is really telling clients that we don’t have value on our work.

So it seems to be up to us to start to re-educate our potential clients. Explaining to them why free pitching can lead to a negative outcome. For an agency that works on unpaid pitches their other clients are inadvertently paying for this free work. Put another way if an agency has a client in the furniture industry and they tender for another furniture manufacturer project the 1st furniture manufacturer is actually inadvertently paying for it’s competitor to get a possible better project. The tender process also brings into question the relationship between the agency and client. The tender process is much more of a scenario based on exploitation rather than benefit. These are both ways for the client and the agency. So assuming the agency wins the pitch and they get the work the initial feeling is of excitement and relief however the work that has already been produced has to be swallowed up somehow. Either the agency absorbs the costs which would mean that they become reliant on pitching and so they become financially unstable. Another option maybe that employees work unpaid on such pitches, which doesn’t create a particularly good feeling within the agecy. Or the costs of an unpaid pitch are added to all jobs as identified previously with companies applying for the free pitching.

It also seems to bring into question the seriousness of the client and it’s project, for if you were really serious about a project that was going to represent your company in some way would you really be happy with something that was bought for free and produced in someone’s free time?

This has lead some companies to begin to see the negatives within free pitching and also to see the negative aspects of how their company is then perceived. Penn Trevella Head of Marketing for the Wales Millennium Centre has recently overseen the re-branding of the WMC through a tendering process where there was an initial public request of interested agencies which was answered through agency supplying a proposal document. From the agencies who supplied a proposal document there was a second phase which was an interview, and then from there a third phase which was for the final selected four agencies, who were given a creative brief, with this final phase being a paid process.

The payment of the creative phase of the tender was very important to the WMC, Penn Trevella comments ‘I think by running a paid pitch process agencies realised how serious we were about the project and our quality and professionalism expectations. Client professionalism is a big thing - if you run a sloppy process then you increase the chances of getting a sloppy result’.

It must be these kind of tender processes and pitches that we make public and shout about the outcomes being positive and more Penn Comments ‘I think the time we invested gave us a better outcome and I would think that as we were paying them the agencies were more willing to commit time to preparing their pitch.’

While hard to say for definite it seems that the outcome for the company has been what they wanted and in some cases surpassed what they were expecting for as well as the actual brand they also learnt about themselves through the process.

At the moment it only seems to be only a few companies that are seeing paid tenders/pitches as the way forward with the majority of companies still using traditional free pitching. As designers while it is obviously hard to take the leap of faith we must all look to stop producing work for free. No other industry gives away their products for free, so why should we? We should if possible also champion companies that start to pay for their pitching processes, and through this we can hopefully show the companies that still persist in making companies work for free take stock and see what they are missing out on.

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