Free Pitch? No Thanks

We’ve just been asked to work for free!

We have just been asked by one a client of significant size to free pitch for the opportunity to go on an approved supplier panel where we might get work from them. We’re not gonna do it. Apart from the fact they have been a former client and we’ve been on their current approved supplier panel for the last few years and received no commissions. We are fundamentally against Free pitching (or Creative Pitching) as are all our professional bodies (AGDA, Design Institute of Australia etc).

It’s just not a sustainable business model

There’s many reasons why pitching is bad for clients, bad for agencies and bad for brands. Normally these gambles are balanced by the promise of an account or some speculative pot of gold. This time there isn’t even that. This client, who knows us and our work, has asked us to answer a brief they have under budgeted at $20k. The brief requires both strategic and creative solutions including commissioning illustration. They have requested 12 agencies to respond! So they are looking for the design community to invest more than the companies annual budget without even the guarantee of any commissions. This is simply not sustainable.

We value our time, even if you don’t

Apart from the massive drain on the design industry of the pitch. The amount of time wasted client side on this ridiculous competition is staggering. Twelve briefings, twelve presentations to a panel of 4, travel etc there’s gotta be 200 hours of client time spent on it. How is that good management? Interesting to understand what kind of organisation could see a benefit from this kind of waste of resources. We run a pretty tight ship here at TD, we have to account for our hours, we certainly couldn’t waste our time like that and would never think of wasting a clients, partners or suppliers like that.

We work the budget hard

We work with all kinds and sizes of organisations and are very aware of the pressure on budgets, we have the same pressures on our business. But we know we can produce the best results from a consultive, inclusive process that is open and frank about budgets, targets, aspirations, everything needed to produce the best brand for everyone. For us this thinking applies both up and down the supply chain. We firmly believe it’s not the best way to create outstanding brands and any business who operates this way really needs to question their business values.

Here’s some more information on why Free Pitching is bad:

AGDA Australian Graphic Design Association

Design Institute of Australia

Win without Pitching (a must read for all creatives)

No Spec

If you’d like to talk to us about the best way to work with great creatives
Give us a call

Derek Carroll
Creative Director

Thanks to Ching Teoh for the Flikr Image 


  1. Hi Derek,

    Great article about a cause close to our heart.

    Firstly, congratulations on your stand. We were approach in a similar way a few years ago by Monash University. To add insult to injury they herded all the designers in a room for a common briefing. I returned to the studio and called each of the designers that I recognised, to say that we wouldn’t be pitching and to implore them to join my stand. Unfortunately I was not too successful – not everyone shared my view.

    Secondly, it’s a well argued case. Would it be OK with you if we published the article in full in our next issue of (due out next Thursday). Free pitching is an issue we’ve discussed previously but we’ve not covered the waste of resources from the client side and I’d like to present that case.

    We will give Truly Deeply full acknowledgment and provide a link to the blog so people can comment and give feedback to ou directly.

    Interested to hear your thoughts.

  2. Great article Derek. A comment from a client who recently asked us to free pitch – “All the other agencies are so desperate for work, they’re happy to do it”. Like that is meant to make it OK. Reminds me of the Grapes of Wrath, where the fruit pickers keep under cutting each other out of desperation, until finally they’re not being paid enough for a day’s work to afford even a single meal of bread and gruel for the day.

  3. Imagine a client asking a builder to build a house for you’d be sure they could do it first? Congratulations on this post: your stroppiness is comforting! We have all been…and still are… in this situation with potential clients. The really infuriating bit is to actually find a company that understands the value of creative thinking but are just so damn uncreative (and punitive) in the way they go about it.

  4. Very well put Derek re: free pitching – one of my biggest challenges is not just new clients expecting us to work for free, but even existing ones constantly asking us for freebie favours – I’m becoming very good at saying ‘no’ but it’s taken a very steep learning curve!

  5. Stephen Green

    Don’t knock it. That’s 11 competitors wasting their time and valuable resources whilst you can be using yours productively. All this ‘free pitching’ nonsense is our fault, if no one did it, then clients wouldn’t ask. Anyone working in this profession (can we call it that with this standard of conduct?) should be put in a room with Blair Enns for a day.

  6. Hey TD – Good on you, a cracking response to your client, I applaud you guys. Integrity and guts. So timely, as we recently ‘tendered’ for work, which we ‘won’. Turns out we weren’t tendering, we were free ‘pitching’ (about $5k worth). We ‘won’ the right to be on a ‘panel’, and can now ‘pitch’ for actual ‘work’, against eight other designers (initially stated to be three). I’m ashamed to admit we were duped by the process, by the time it became apparent we were to far down the track. After many years in business we should have known better, we should have acted better. The unfortunate (predictable) end outcome is that now the ‘winners’ will be looking to recoup their ‘win’ by ripping off the client when they can. This is the simple end outcome, the clients elected process will cost them more. A waste of time and money all round as you guys say, with the worst possible outcome. Loose, loose, loose.

  7. This sounds so familiar. In the last recession I went through the same scenario – 12 design studios pitching for one project for one of the big four banks. They knew times were tough and they took advantage of that. I knocked the opportunity back. Aside from the things that others have already mentioned, if the odds of winning are poor, why invest your time? All new business activity needs to be considered from the point of view of the % probability of your studio winning the account and the value of the account or project. I don’t agree with free pitching but it happens. I wouldn’t invest much at all in a project that I had less than a 30-50% chance of winning. A general proposal – yes – but free strategy and creative – no.

  8. Fantastic article Derek,

    Have just read it via dmzine (thanks Carol!)

    We have also been in a similar situation with our local council encouraging the local design community to be involved with a crowd-sourced logo competition.

    I never have a problem saying no, as the clients have either never been educated about allocating time & resources, OR they don’t value the solutions we produce for them so they clearly aren’t our clientele.

    We usually try and put it back in their terms like Moya mentioned – eg asking a restaurant to bring us everything on the menu and we will pay for it if we really like it after we’ve eaten.

    We also have a programme in place where we donate 8 hours of design per month to a local non-profit, sport or community organisation… this has been a great way to educate the local community about commercially viable design 🙂

    I would also love to share your article (in it’s entirety) on our blog & social media if you wouldn’t mind.

    Kind Regards,

  9. Go Derek, Couldn’t agree more.

    The jolly advertising agencies set this wonderful trend! It drives me banana’s that our wealth of experience is not enough to for them to have the goolies to make a decision.
    I also agree…what a waste of resources on their behalf, talks to the culture of the organisation. It is just a cheap way to grab our IP for nothing and in some cases they allow the “chosen one” to utilise someones else’s creative anyway. How does that work!?

    Our company has been in situations where I know that we were the only ones being paid…so who’s fault is that!?
    It is not a sustainable business model and all it does is damage our industry and what we represent. Lets face it would you take any business seriously if it gave away what they did for nothing!

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