Treat groups with respect

What makes for a fair pitch process that doesn’t alienate designers?

I accidentally ruffled a few feathers this summer by criticising a pitch process, and discovered over the following weeks that some people thought I was against pitching per se, or, more extraordinarily, against being creative in the first place. Daft as these thoughts are I have chatted to others in the business and we agree that there are so many different styles to setting up a pitch and very little consensus about what is best.

There does seem to be some correlation between pitches within the same industry, but there are neither obvious guidelines nor much agreement about what makes a good pitch, other than to get the very best out of a group – you can’t pay peanuts (or you’ll end up with monkeys).

I have only my opinion to offer, but it is with a fair bit of experience and an open invitation to anyone who can refine the process further, because the better it becomes the more we all benefit. British Design Innovation has put a lot of effort into defining the process.

It is important to us because about 40 per cent of our work comes via the process of pitching, though perhaps a more telling statistic would be about how many of these pitches we win (I’m not telling). We have quite often been asked to help a client structure its pitching process or write its brief and are always very happy to help – why not?

A little while ago, Factorydesign was fortunate in being asked to join a pitch for a very interesting project with Airbus Industries, which comprised three London-based consultancies. After a visit to Toulouse we submitted a proposal as the first part of the process and then learnt that the client expected the creative effort to be free. Even for a business as tempting to us as Airbus, we had to say that we were unable to take part, and, in fact, that it went against the best practice of the industry trade body the Design Business Association, of which we were members.

A pleasant and genuinely concerned member of the Airbus team phoned us to say how embarrassing it was and that he would get back to us. He called within a day to offer us a decent figure for the creative stage one, pointing out that he would be offering the same amount to the other two consultancies, neither of which had (up to this point, anyway) mentioned a free pitch being an issue. As it happens, we got no further with the project than stage one, but that’s life.

Clients are keen to know what to ask and what to look for in answers. The details change, but overall there seems to be a format that gets it about right in our experience. The basic rules are as follows:

• Choose design consultancies that have different strengths and weaknesses, but which offer the potential for delivering the project. If the client does not have the expertise to look at the design market in a considered way, organisations like the Design Council, the DBA or BDI can help. I never know why anyone asks for more than three groups to take part unless they either know little about who does what, or are trying to mine the industry for ideas to get a project going.

• Provide a clear brief that allows flexibility without being too prescriptive. This is an art in itself and again, we have found ourselves working very comfortably with existing or potential clients, helping them to get the best out of a brief.

• If you ask a consultancy to produce creative work to judge it over another, then this really needs paying for. We will all put together a proposal document that in itself can have very valuable thoughts about the way ahead on a project, but creative work needs the right climate to bloom.

• Project time is important and though some things are needed in a tearing rush, I believe designers need time to continuously re-evaluate a brief and see how the work could be better. To rein a project in to a tight deadline cuts off this percolation time.

• Are you comfortable with the designer? The industry has some really great people in it these days, and what you need to do is chat for an hour or so and ask yourself whether there is a connection.

• Finally, you need to understand properly what a group can deliver at a creative level, then let it go on a stage basis for the first stage of work. That is the only way to judge how they perform and what they do.

Adam White is creative director of Factorydesign

HOW TO BE A GOOD CLIENT AT THE PITCH

• Choose no more than three design consultancies
• Get informed about the market. Design organisations can help
• Provide a clear brief
• Don’t expect free creative work at any stage
• Don’t demand design work too quickly as this will affect its quality
• Make sure you are comfortable with the personalities and their creative abilities

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