Creative ideas for nothing debate reaches fever pitch

Yes, to all letter writers, it is time again for the free-pitching debate, sparked this time by Jim Davies’ erudite Private View on the subject (see Letters, page 13).

It is ironic that every time the issue of free-pitching is raised in print, the Design Week postbag swells. Yet, while most correspondents are against it, the majority of consultancies continue to practice it in one guise or another.

It is still the topic that raises temperatures in design more than any other. Forget the need for improved creativity in consultancies’ output, the parlous state of graduate employment, or the need to tap new sources of work for design. Free-pitching is where the would-be activists find their voice – and yet their rally cries have so far proved ineffective.

The Design Business Association is opposed to it, though has yet to show its teeth by naming members it knows to have taken part in a free pitch. Perhaps under its new management, the DBA can find a way to address the issue head-on – more likely through discussion with clients than through reprimanding its own.

It doesn’t help that creative excellence champion British Design & Art Direction has proved unsympathetic to the ethics of design, having launched its own free pitch for the latest Call for Entries for its awards, with a holiday as the prize for the victor. This practice may be acceptable in D&AD’s advertising heartland, but not in design and we look to president-elect Dick Powell to redress the balance and ‘re-educate’ his D&AD peers about the practices of our industry.

The simple fact is that a free creative pitch puts design groups on the level of suppliers in clients’ eyes, when in reality they offer a professional service that can have a great effect on the bottom line and both customer and staff relations. As Davies said in his Private View, you wouldn’t expect a builder to do work speculatively, so why a design consultancy?

But it isn’t just the ‘work for free’ that causes rancour. It’s the whole idea of cheapening design. Some organisations – often Government-related – that pay groups in a creative pitch, pay so little that it doesn’t even cover the cost of the presentation, let alone the ideas that are so freely given.

Perhaps the DBA should make free-pitching a priority, focusing not so much on the ‘kiss and tell’ aspects of the issue, but on taking it forward in a more professional way. Definitions of what constitutes a free pitch and suggested fee-scales for consultancies and clients, maybe as a percentage of the project’s worth, might be part of this. It’s also about developing a real understanding of client expectations and pressures rather than the old idea of ‘educating’ clients.

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