Free pitching – is accreditation the way forward?

The research highlighted that due to difficulties for both agency and commissioning body, free pitching is rife and costs the design sector £1.7bn per annum against an overall turnover figure for the industry of just £4.6bn (estimated by the BDI). Furthermore, 26% of all pitches never come to fruition.

Public sector tendering attracted major criticism from the design sector, which the research indicates is costing £38,000 per annum per agency.

The British Design Innovation points out that the public sector is bound by rules in terms of tendering, and obviously a duty to the general public to spend the money wisely. It also raises the point that tendering arguably gives agencies of all sizes the chance to compete for such projects.

The BDI have subsequently invited both agencies and commissioning organisations to partake in discussions to ask how the tendering process can be improved and if an accreditation system would benefit both parties.

Key complaints from agencies regarding pitching for public sector work were varied in the research. The commissioning of low value projects came under attack where 100’s of agencies were invited to compete for small projects, or whereby excessive documentation was deemed to be irrelevant: ““Why does the Council want to know my asbestos policy and demand £5million P.I insurance for a £10,000 graphics job – how dangerous is that project going to be?”

Other complaints were along the lines you might expect regarding free pitching; free creative concepts to be submitted with the tender documentation without the benefit of a briefing meeting – and no formal feedback. One agency commented “We most often just presume we haven’t won the project because we didn’t receive a letter or phone call to tell us any different and none of our calls were returned. We have no idea why we didn’t win, who did, or where our work ended up.”

Tenders have also been withdrawn at the last minute without explanation. In one instance, an agency had worked over the Christmas holiday period to meet the deadline, only to be told 4 months later that the project had been cancelled.

Another bugbear is the request for full costs (including production, photography and print) ahead of a full briefing, when at that point the creative solution is still an unknown.

Lastly unfair copyright terms have also been cited as a problem by agencies: “We have received several tenders demanding free concepts are sent with the tender which become the property of the commissioning body regardless of whether we win the project – we put them in the bin.”

The BDI states that early feedback indicates an accreditation system may well offer reassurance to commissioning parties so long as it is driven by the design industry. The organisation states that it must be fair to small as well as large agencies, reflect their professionalism without stifling creativity – and be a workable solution to the public and private sector commissioning processes alike.

Initial feedback from agencies to the BDI include the following suggestions for improving the tendering process:

- Determine the professional items a design business should be required to invest in e.g. Professional Indemnity insurance, employees liability insurance, training and CPD, professional qualifications, project management procedures etc;

- Develop a stage of accreditation according to agency disciplines, size and the geographical markets they operate in and match the professional items required to that stage of accreditation (for example, stage one through to five stage accreditation system would denote the type and size of agency - or freelancer - and whether it was operating locally, regionally, nationally, European wide or internationally);

- Agencies could update their information as new skills are added or growth and expansion occurs leading to an upgrade, any time during the year, to the next accreditation level;

- The choice of accreditation stage and its maintenance would therefore be in the control of the agency itself; to the agreed guidelines laid down by the design sector balanced against the needs of procurement officers, at inception of the system.

Discussions regarding the implementation, management and cost of such a scheme are ongoing. If you would like to comment or make any suggestions, please email with ‘Accreditation Comment’ in the subject title.


7th February 2006

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