Learn from estate agents and regulate our industry

I don’t necessarily agree with David Lightman’s points (Letters, DW 3 March) that free-pitching is for shysters, knaves and idiots – it seems to be a fact of life. But I do feel the design industry is to blame.

I don’t necessarily agree with David Lightman’s points (Letters, DW 3 March) that free-pitching is for shysters, knaves and idiots – it seems to be a fact of life. But I do feel the design industry is to blame.

Let’s look at another profession. For years, estate agents were despised, but became a ‘necessary evil’ in the buying and selling of our most important investments. They have an industry body in the National Association of Estate Agents, but were not regulated by it. Agency staff required no qualifications and could easily set up a small office and start trading.

When transacting on a property you employ a qualified and regulated solicitor, a qualified and regulated financial advisor and an estate agent. Who earns the most money out of the transaction? The unqualified and unregulated party. Recognising that estate agents needed to be accountable, the Government and the NAEA are in the process of introducing tough new regulations, which should smoke out the cowboy companies.

The design business is not regulated, but is trusted with massive client budgets. All you need today to call yourself a design consultancy is a couple of grands’ worth of Macs, a trading name and a desk – and the inclination to free pitch. We are rarely held accountable for the advice or solutions we give to our clients. Creativity is very subjective, it becomes a matter of choice for our clients and if it works then we get another brief.

If it doesn’t, everyone’s left scratching their heads and perhaps the client finds a new consultancy. Where’s the accountability in that?

So given that the barriers to entry to our business are minimal, how can we expect to be considered a serious strategic business partner and command a seat at the table?

So here’s an idea. We can’t stop people entering the business, but we can encourage clients to stop buying from them. The Design Business Association should work with Government to introduce proper design industry regulations.

Consultancies would need to become regulated to trade legitimately, and clients assured that a DBA-regulated consultancy has passed stringent testing and therefore is a ‘trusted’ provider and will not free-pitch. If the client wants to risk its budgets with an unregulated company, that’s its risk.

We as an industry should stop navel-gazing and moaning about a situation we’ve created and start by drawing comparisons from other industries. We call ourselves creatives. Let’s think out of the box.

Simon Barbato

Joint managing directorCommunique360Richmond TW10 6DF

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