Pitch Fever.

by First name Last name on 12/14/2010 | 4 Minute Read

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In my last article, I said that “…frankly, low-paid pitches are a real unspoken problem and a discussion which I’ll save for another time.”

Well the Dictionary definition of ‘Pitch’ is:  a form of words used when trying to persuade someone to buy or accept something: a good sales pitch. So let me pitch this: Low fee pitching is bad for clients.

And not only that, it’s potentially far worse for them than it is for designers who accept them and then complain about doing them and the effect it has on their own business without putting forward a view about why it is a false economy to their clients.

So let me say it again; Low fee Pitching is bad for clients.

It doesn't give you, the client, what you really need. Instead of providing you with a solution, these types of pitches waste clients’ time and money and deny us all the opportunity to build a precious collaborative working environment and relationship. They also come at considerable cost to other clients, draining resource, effort and finances from their projects. Would you like to be that client?

Rather than being a smart idea, dividing a precious brand budget between 4-5 agencies, does not create choice but turns the most important, collaborative, problem solving issue – the brief – into a divisive, time-wasting competition. From our side, the designer’s mindset automatically changes from using design for problem solving, to winning a project. By default, the various strategies you prompt us to adopt means that the results, can’t be judged properly and wont solve the brief.

Let me describe an all too common low pitch scenario for you and how you make us think based on all the advice out there and experiences we share.

Agency A decides: ‘ Ok then, X dollars’s gives you X-amount of work based on X amount of time it buys’. The client is left short-changed with little or poor ideas.

Agency B decides: We will drench you in work, demonstrating desperate over-eagerness: The client is left confused and annoyingly smothered.

Agency C decides: We’ll use clever agency speak to challenge the task, and re-define the brief. The client doubts themselves, how to judge an uneven playing field, and probably the agency.

Agency D: decides “No thanks, not for those fees - my other clients will suffer and I have a business to run” and walks away. The client is most likely down by one good, integretous agency who knows their priorities.

So, the client is short-changed, confused, and doubtful, maybe even their favored agency down. More than that, the whole messy process may have taken 3-4 weeks, the pitch strategy is now all over the place, the budget is blown and those around you (and even the agencies themselves) may question not just your process but also your reputation.

But, lets assume one agency gets chosen and the project finally gets underway, the pitch scenario can still have a part to play. If your selected agency chooses to pitch again and again, then their time, resource and people are diverted away from your business and you lose out once again… and as often as they do it. And there’s a lot of it going on.

It’s important to look at it from the client’s perspective and we know times are tough with budget pressures everywhere. But, they are for all of us.

So what’s best?

It really does need to be about all of us, designer, client and our design associations, taking responsibility for our industry. We need to present a more unified eloquent front and maybe establish a standard code of practice to abolish and educate out the need for low-paid pitching. We need to promote the idea of commissioning design based on credentials, capability and properly paid-for pitching, if at all. This does not devalue our creativity but helps to enforce a value to our standards – and once again enforce the value of design to our clients.

Forward-thinking clients know that the design industry we work in is world class.  They know the impact of fearless, great and desirable design compared to other creative skills.  They know it delivers tangible value to their bottom line and in tough economic times, they are not lazy or timid and they don’t undermine creativity. They trust their judgment, choose and properly commission a design team based on experience, gut-feeling and shared values, and then work with them to get an effective result.

And in doing so, they earn themselves a great return on their investment.

Jonathan Ford

Creative Partner, Pearlfisher

Jonathan is a designer and co-founder of Pearlfisher, the leading American and UK design agency, with one of the best track records for design and commercial effectiveness for brands.



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