Designers' free ideas cost £38,000

Design agencies are on average £38,000 worse off each year thanks to creative pitches given to clients unwilling to pay for industry expertise.

The process of free pitching hits small design firms the hardest, amounting to a yearly loss of 12 per cent of company man-hours, according to research from British Design Innovation.

The group’s expose into the affects of free pitching found that more than a quarter of projects creative professionals are invited to pitch for end up awarded to a rival company.

Clients most frequently said their change of heart was down to a fluctuating marketing strategy, reduced budget or simply “no chemistry” with the designers.

Only 17 per cent of clients found the process of sourcing design consultancy ‘easy’, despite the fact that a business colleague’s recommendation of which agency to use was the most trusted and popular practice.

When quizzed about their expectations, almost six out of ten clients said they would withdraw an invitation to pitch if the agency insisted on payment.

Out of 200 UK-based organisations, exactly 83 per cent said free pitching was the best way to decide upon an agency - 70 per cent of which added designers should not be paid.

However, 44 per cent do agree to pay ‘nominal’ fee, 31 per cent reimburse the agent for expenses and materials, whereas not one said they would pay a full ‘economic fee.’

Clients said consultants are most likely to win their approval by showing ideas specifically relevant to their requirements, with previous case studies and a company overview deemed the most useful indicators.

According to designers, the concept of the free pitch is far from reclining, given just under half of the industry say their invitations have soared over the last 12 months.

However just 16 per cent of design respondents, including graphic, interior, branding and product experts, say they now accept all free pitches – regardless of the circumstances or cost.

Around 65 per cent said they selectively choose when to agree to free pitching, yet over half of all design agencies believe they receive invites just to ‘make up the numbers.’

Adding to the lost man-hours, small design firms said they were disillusioned with feedback as to why they were unsuccessful, evidenced by just 15 per cent feeling satisfied with the volume or method of explanation.

Communication is clearly a problem in the sector, as almost 80 per cent of clients insisted using the telephone to sufficiently explain why the agency was unsuccessful. Just three clients reported the bad news via standard letter or e-mail.

In a statement, BDI said the industry should recognise there is room for improvement on both the part of the client and the agency.

It added: “It is highly unlikely that free pitching will cease. However, whimsical, unethical or lazy procurement procedures by both public and private sector commissioning bodies can be and must be resolved.”

The group pointed out some design experts may be subject to written strategic directions, rather than creative concepts, that are equally time-consuming yet commercially valuable to the client.


2nd December 2005

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