We don’t believe in doing speculative work for free.
Instead, we believe in trust.
Here’s our rationale…
First, we need to explain exactly what we mean by the term ‘creative pitching.’
We define it is any kind of creative work that is put forward to potential clients without the exchange of fees or a guarantee of securing the account. It involves our team doing a lot of free work in the hope that a prospective client will choose us over the 4, 5 or even more other agencies they have invited to pitch.
We understand why holding a pitch might seem like a tempting or even logical proposition.
Choosing a creative partner and buying unseen ideas from them can seem like a slightly scary prospect, particularly when you may not have worked with the agency before. Plus it’s a great way to get fresh ideas about your project, right?
But in our agency’s years of experience (including dozens of free pitches), we’ve come to the realisation that due to its superficial nature, creative pitching cannot and does not benefit neither agency nor client in the long-term.
Reason #1 Most creative pitches turn into nothing more than conveyor-belt style beauty contests.
Considerable time and effort is required to develop serious design proposals. To start making strategic recommendations about your business, we need to understand your business model, your short and long-term objectives, your brand values, your position in the market relative to your competitors, your customers, and how this particular project fits in with your overall marketing strategy. The idea that a client has the time to properly brief 4 or 5 different agencies on all of the aforementioned is just not realistic, and this means when it comes to preparing their pitches, none of the agencies participating in the process fully understand what the potential client is looking for. Ultimately then, the pitch cannot be based on a genuine understanding of a client’s business and this most often leads to creative work that misses the mark, leaving all parties frustrated. The client feels they have to pick ‘the best of a bad bunch,’ and the agency don’t understand why the client didn’t love their ideas. Not the best start to a working relationship, and ultimately the client’s business will suffer down the line from trying to shoehorn a creative strategy that’s not right for them.
Reason #2 It doesn’t give agencies the chance to showcase their real and full capabilities.
The creative pitch process itself ensures it is almost impossible for an agency to fully showcase the extent of their abilities. As an integrated agency, CuCo work collaboratively to support our clients across the full marketing spectrum, not just in creative design. Just because an agency presents concepts that make your MD nod approvingly, this does not mean they will be your perfect partners six months down the line. In addition, the tender process ultimately ends up rewarding agencies who have the most time on their hands, e.g. those who don’t regularly win work. Thus, you may end up with an agency who performed well in the pitch, but who are unable to meet all your requirements six months down the line.
Reason #3 It takes our time and energy away from our existing clients.
Our strategic and creative resources are our most valuable assets and we shouldn’t be giving them away for free. Not only do pitches take up considerable time, energy and effort on behalf of our team, they also steal time away from our actual (paying!) clients. The best agencies don’t have time to pitch, because they are busy focusing on over-delivering on existing projects for their fantastic clients. Does your company really want to appoint an agency who are distracted trying to win pitches rather than making sure your business reaches it’s goals?
Reason #4 The client can decide to pick no one.
Because there is little to no regulation surrounding the creative agency pitch process, absolutely nothing stops the company holding the pitch from selecting none of the agencies at the end of the process. This gives rise to the dreaded ‘idea mining,’ scenario, whereby a business invites agencies to pitch with no real intention of hiring any of them. The company uses the pitch process as a way to gain some fresh ideas – which they will disappear with, never to be heard from again. Seeing your hard work and ideas implemented by this company themselves a few months later, without any accreditation or payment is extremely frustrating and disappointing, especially after your pitch was subject to rejection.
Reason #5 Clients will eventually end up paying for speculative work anyway.
Design consultancies are commercial organisations. Would you ask a personal trainer to train you for free, and tell him or her you will only pay them once you see weight loss results? Or would you ask three architects to build you a house each, to then pick and only pay for your favourite one? Although this sounds ludicrous, and something you certainly would not do, this is ultimately what clients are requesting from agencies when they ask them to do a free creative pitch. Agencies will therefore be forced to regain the cost of speculative pitches through higher fees across our industry as a whole.
Many creative agencies are starting to feel the same way we do and are also starting to make noise about it. The best are already politely turning down invitations to pitch.
So how do I pick an agency without holding a creative pitch?
We would suggest basing your decision on the 4 C’s: credentials, capabilities, chemistry and creativity. Almost all design agencies have an online portfolio for you to explore and some also offer credentials laying out their strengths and capabilities.
Once you identify a few agencies you like the flavour of and who seem to be capable of achieving your brief, we’d highly recommend arranging a meeting so they can evaluate your current activity and you can assess the personalities involved in the project to see if you click.
We’ve both won and lost a vast array pitches in the past. But since changing our stance and explaining to potential clients the reasons behind our refusal to participate in their pitch process, we have actually gained a series of incredible clients who appreciated our honesty. Our relationships with existing clients are also stronger because they’ve noticed we are suddenly able to spend much more time working with them to grow their business. Our clients are made up of individuals who trusted our judgement, ideas and level of experience from the beginning. These are the types of clients that our team want to go the extra mile for and why we are excited to come to work in the morning.
We think it’s time to ditch the pitch.
Keep your eyes out for our Courtney-Thorne case study.