The client’s point of view on the free-pitching debate

How long can the design industry continue to whine and bitch about the rather insignificant issue of free -pitching? Not yet apparently, so I’ll portray the views of the ‘dark side’.

When I was a design consultant I never produced a free pitch (I was never asked), and as a client I have never requested one. But this is not because I morally object and I don’t rule it out as a future option.

Free-pitching is a legitimate form of marketing that groups should be free to embark on if they wish. I find it worryingly hypocritical that some of the industry’s bodies, such as the Design Business Association, lambaste clients for restrictive practices, while at the same time force anti-competitive conditions on its members.

While I have a lot of respect for the DBA and what it is trying to achieve, especially in the arena of in-house design, I can’t help but feel this is an abuse of its power.

As an industry we have to put the supply of our services into the context of the commercial environment in which we all live and conduct our business.

Bits of the puzzle to whet the appetite, but certainly not the whole jigsaw, for that you have to pay. If a consultancy produces the whole experience as part of a free pitch then it is foolish. And if a client thinks it can recreate the entire experience from a ‘trailer’ then they are also sorely mistaken.

The issue is not a moral one. It’s a personal and a business one. It’s about marketing, because design is a service and not a product (but I’m not clear what the distinction is), which should make no difference.

If a group doesn’t believe in freepitching, it can say no. But it is not entitled to force its own limited opinions on the industry because it doesn’t want to compete.

We would all love to work in an industry where no up-front investment was necessary to operate a profitable business, where clients knew exactly who all the groups were and the selection process was as easy as picking up the phone and calling Rodney, again.

In other words, in an industry where there was no competition and no commercial risk, is this really what the industry wants?

As for free-pitching devaluing design, only bad design does that.

There is some truth in the adage ‘something that costs nothing is worth nothing’. And it is, therefore, important that nothing with any claimed value be presented to a client as part of a free pitch. Designers, practiced in the art of perception, should be better than most at achieving this balance.

Colum Lowe

Head of store design


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