Clients should not judge on ideas alone

Our recent research results, co-produced with British Design Innovation, put the annual cost of free-pitching at an average of £38 000 per consultancy and even paid pitching at £25 000 per group.

It showed that 26 per cent of all pitches never materialise into a commissioned project. Top reasons given were: change of marketing strategy, no budget to proceed, change of personnel and lack of chemistry with the designers.

Clients admitted to selecting up to three groups for paid pitches, but more than double that for free-pitching. These results show that the pitch process has become too easy for clients.

Who picks up the tab? The design groups. And do clients care? Mostly, not. The research showed that most clients believe consultancies build the cost of pitching into their overheads. Given the hard-nosed negotiations made by paying clients, there is barely room for profit.

The problem lies in the lack of internal training on how to appoint a creative team. Clients are not prepared to invest in that, but, instead, judge by ideas alone. Designers are taking a huge risk on those ideas being right – and paying for it.

Commercial design and advertising are the only creative industry groups where free ideas are expected. The design sector needs to become more business-savvy and take a fresh look at the fees for services model – perhaps payment options, such as royalties and licensing fees.

If clients can judge other creative services on other criteria, why do they struggle with design and advertising? As designers, we should aid them in that process. It’s not enough to just say ‘no’. We have to say, ‘No. Here’s the reason why and here is how we can help you judge our ability without free ideas.’

So how about using some of the £4m Creative Industries Sector Skills Council’s budget on training courses for personnel responsible for hiring creative teams?

Fraser Black, Managing director, Firedog Design, London W1

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