It’s a heavily debated topic but we still can’t help but feel strongly about free pitching. It devalues what we do and erodes our integrity. It encourages the myth that we just knock out some designs with little need for a brief or client involvement. In a free pitch, you’re only getting part of the picture and not the full benefit of the agency’s abilities. Pitching overlooks the intellectual component and dialogue inherent in all design. Little wonder the results are often disappointing.
If an agency is doing unpaid work then who picks up the tab? The lights are on, the salaries need paying, and costs need to be met. These costs need allocating to a column somewhere; inevitably they will fall into the agency’s operating costs. It boils down to the ‘no such thing in business as a free lunch’ adage. Inevitably, clients end up paying for free pitching, either through the agency including costs in other design work or elsewhere in a job.
Naturally, clients aren’t the only ones to blame. Agencies might also want to speculatively provide design ideas in the hope of payment or winning exclusive access to a client's account. However, free pitch work usually fulfils a different set of criteria. Its objective is to win the business. So what wins isn’t always the best route for your customer. How can you be sure the recommendations will be effective and not just what you want to hear? Free pitching usually delivers work designed to please, not primed to perform.
Many design agencies feel free pitches are an underhand way of doing business. There’s a chance that agencies are deliberately trying to displace existing professional relationships and rock the boat. While there are agencies willing to go to any lengths to win the work, we’ll never get rid of free pitching. And starting relationships where clients place no value on the work will always lead to difficulties.
If you want to select a new agency, there are fairer and more fruitful alternatives to free pitches: