Design studios win more business by going against pitching requirements

Among other findings, results from the What Clients Think 2021 survey gives evidence to the idea “clients don’t always know what they want until they see it”.

In the last year, some 62% of winning pitches by design studios went against a specific pitch requirement set out by a client, according to the What Clients Think 2021 report.

Now in its seventh year, the annual report is released by Up to the Light, a UK-based client survey provider, in association with the Design Business Association (DBA).

This year’s findings are based on a total of 580 client interviews conducted on behalf of design agencies.

According to the report, news that so much business was won as a result of going against pitching requirements is proof that “clients don’t always know what they want until they see it”. It goes on to say that these findings are a message to agencies to “trust in their experience and expertise”.

Covid means businesses are having to “deal with what’s in front of them”

Findings in 2021 were grouped into three areas: the Covid world, winning clients and retaining and growing clients.

Findings related to the pandemic give evidence to what many studios will have already been feeling throughout the last year, such as the fact three quarters of clients (74%) are finding it “extremely difficult or impossible” to plan ahead.

The report says this is largely because businesses are having to “deal with what’s right in front of them”.

This is compounded by the fact 60% of clients say they are having to be “more reactive than they have ever been”, while 90% report not being able to give as much consideration to longer-term brand building as they’d necessarily like.

The overall mood, according to What Clients Think 2021 is that work is “tactical, rather than strategic” right now.

However, the pandemic hasn’t been all bad, especially for “regional” studios. According to the survey, 87% of clients consider a studio’s location to be relatively unimportant – a 20% increase on last year – with the report saying descriptors like “London” and “regional” are becoming “increasingly irrelevant”.

Clients want less “trumpet blowing” online

In terms of winning clients, findings show that there is a lot that can be improved.

Three fifths of clients (61%), it turns out, prefer not to deal with design studio representatives whose job titles that “shout sales”. This includes the likes of “business development managers” and “new business directors”.

Social media is also a point of contention, the survey reveals. Some 37% of respondents believe design agencies tend to use their social media to “promote themselves rather than share knowledge”, and 24% believe agency social activity is “not relevant enough” – the report says “trumpet blowing” is an ongoing complaint among clients.

This is an interesting – and perhaps disappointing – finding, particularly after seeing designers turn to social media throughout the pandemic to share work, support neighbours and fellow creatives alike and initiate projects.

Despite not wishing to see “trumpet blowing” on social media, clients did overwhelmingly say that they pay attention to awards when sourcing a studio for design work. Some 64% admit to “googling awards” when checking out agencies. With this in mind, you can apply to the Design Week Awards here.

Pitching troubles

While it has already been established by the results that clients value design studios willing to think outside of and against requirements when pitching, 55% of clients still think studios “play it too safe” while pitching.

A further three quarters (74%) of respondents said agencies spend too long speaking about themselves while pitching. The report summarises that “there is a general impatience for agencies to talk about the client, not the agency”.

And 37% of clients “fail to use their case studies to best effect” while pitching. The report asks studios to consider: “Do we really need six case studies when three will make the point?”

Seeing the people behind the work

Finally, the survey explored how clients were interacting with their studios.

Some 44% of respondents said they expected more from their agency through the pandemic, with the most popular wants being things like more “great ideas” and more “check ins”.

A further third (33%) of clients wish their studios were “more self-critical”.

It’s not all bad news though – one pleasant consequence of the pandemic has reportedly been clients and agencies getting to know each other better – the report puts this down to things like meeting children and pets, and seeing their home environments. This serves to enable clients to see designers “as people beyond the work”, according to the report.

Furthermore, a huge 95% of clients believe the personal chemistry with the people working at their design agency is either “good” or “very good”.

You can read the rest of the report findings on the Up to the Light website.

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