When is it right to pitch or say no?
What is a free pitch and why are they used?
For many people in business, the idea of tendering for work is not new and is a totally acceptable business practice. In the creative industry, the word ‘pitch’ sends a shiver down the spines of most agencies, because it is an expensive process, with prospective clients wanting a significant amount of work doing for no cost! Free pitching usually takes place when a company decides to appoint a new agency, which will take care of some, if not all of it’s creative work. Most organisations that use free pitches have large and sometimes incredibly lucrative accounts that can be used to entice the agency into believing the risk is worth taking. More often than not, the potential client will set a speculative brief, which may become ‘real’ at a later date. The agency is expected to develop the brief and create a solution, which demonstrates it’s thinking and it’s capability to follow the work through. I can only suggest that this practice is much the same as asking a mechanic to fix your car in order to demonstrate that he/she is competent enough to do it!
Making the case for a pitch
Many of the organisations making use of the free pitch process, would argue that it is really difficult to understand what an agency is like, until they have worked with them and they have had some work produced. What’s more, such organisations feel it necessary to compare several agencies in order to gain a true understanding of their creative capability. Such an approach leads to the question, ‘if this is how organisations feel it best to operate, why not set aside some money in order for each agency to spend time developing their response to the brief against their own charging structure?’ Surely this provides a better indication of what they will get for their money than a free pitch would, and besides that, would you be able to do this with any other service?
Some may think that little harm is done and that it is an agency’s choice whether they participate in the process or not. Although the participation is, to a degree, voluntary, I think it is understandable that few individuals will walk away from the opportunity to wine that ‘big client’. The real issue is that the agencies that participate most in pitches do not absorb the cost of doing so. In fact, they pass the time and cost spent on pitches to other larger accounts where the time can be allocated to existing projects. It is because of this that many smaller agencies do not participate in the process of free pitching as much as larger ones and this also explains why some larger agencies can afford to go that extra mile. So beware, whilst you are asking for free pitches which will enable you to review the creative capabilities of agencies, they in turn, will be testing their own creative accounting when it comes to raising the invoice on your first job!
What’s the answer?
It’s simple. Set a budget and pay for the pitch. You will get a far better insight into what your prospective agency will be like. If you start off with immoral practices, you will attract companies that are happy to do business with you on that basis – so good luck!