Category Archives: Debate

Free pitching is killing creativity.

2 days later and we’ve lost a client, due to our ‘Don’t ask us to free pitch anymore!’ campaign.

After submitting our tender document for re-appointment to the creative services roster for a large Welsh County Council, for which we have provided creative services for since 1996; including brochures, brand identities and advertising campaigns for some of their most prestigious assets around the city.

However, after receiving our emailer, regarding Black Sheep’s new approach to business that doesn’t include giving away creativity through free pitching. Their Marketing Services Manager called to inform us of their decision, to exclude us from their roster for the next two years, because of our new stance on not free pitching ideas.

If you compile a roster of creative agencies, then selecting one to produce the work based on a quotation alone should be adequate? Otherwise, what’s the point in having a roster?

We’re saying ‘goodbye’ to short sighted attitudes!

And hello to those that understand the power of creativity!


Don’t ask us to free pitch anymore!

We’ve been thinking for some time about how we do business and that free pitching our creative ideas against 5-10 other agencies every time a new project comes around is just stupid.

Would you ask an accountant to prepare your annual accounts before deciding on whether to engage their services? You might, but they wouldn’t do it!

Here’s how we plan to do business from now on.
Producing creative ideas for clients requires that we build a relationship with them in order to produce effective communications that deliver against agreed objectives.
So, with that in mind, ‘how can we deliver creativity, blindly in a free pitch situation?’ It’s like waving a flag in the air and expecting the wind to take it- nine times out of ten, there’s no wind.

Our creativity is our currency, so giving it away makes no sense at all! That’s why we’re taking a different approach to winning new business.

If our quote is competitive? Why not just commission us? Then after an initial consultation, where we learn about what it is you want to achieve. We’ll present you with up to three design concepts for the project. If you don’t like them, we’ll do it again and until you do. Or, you can walk away with nothing to pay!

It’s a pretty simple way of working, but may exclude us from working with some clients. But we believe that a client who is serious about their brand communications will understand and respect where we’re going and continue commission Black Sheep for all the right reasons.

Don’t like it? Don’t pay for it!
It’s our guarantee to you!

Just don’t ask us to free pitch anymore.

Jack & Neil

‘Free pitching’, when will we learn to value what we offer?

In an open letter, Maxine J Horn, CEO of British Design Innovation (BDI), calls upon all national and regional Design and Innovation representative bodies supported by the Design Council to work together to establish meaningful procurement guidelines.

In the letter, Ms Horn argues that whilst Design is seen as ‘good for business’ there is a failure by procurement officers, both private and public, ‘to recognise Design as a profession’. The letter is a direct response to the ‘free-pitch’ exercise announced by newly elected Major for London, Boris Johnson, seeking a re-design of The Routemaster Bus to comply with Transport for London guidelines.

The letter goes on to suggest that ‘only a collective and balanced response will move this issue of free pitching forward to a more positive and appropriate means of engagement between client and creative firm’.

Ms Horn refers to the recent press comment by the Chairman of the Design Council who stated that he intended to promote Design and not, specifically, the Design Council.

Thereby an excellent opportunity is presenting itself. The ‘professional’ value of design thinking and design itself could be communicated to business, rather than simply the value design brings to their business.

She proposes that a collaborative call to establish a Best Practice Design Procurement Code and Procurement Guidelines is desperately needed. Once finalised, BDI is proposing that these are made available, free of charge, to design firms and private and public sector design procurers.

The letter in full: (9th July 2008)

Procurement Rules! Clearly not…..

A few weeks ago Design Week via its Vox Pop asked a number of people what they expected from Boris Johnson by way of support of the creative industries. No-one envisaged that his first opportunity would be to launch a free pitch to design a bus to replace the Routemaster.

It shouldn’t need to be said that to design a new bus which complies with the Transport for London Guidelines and Boris Johnson’s wish list is a complex and time-consuming task where passenger safety is paramount.

So who is advising Boris Johnson, other senior politicians, procurement officers and private sector clients who appear to have taken on the design is good for business message but do not appear to recognize design as a profession?
Each time Design Week learns of a free pitch it goes out of its way to highlight the breach of industry guidelines. This is very encouraging.

But where are these industry guidelines?
BDI launched a set in 2004 in line with those of the IPA, ISBA, DMA and the PRCA. However all the other national & regional design trade bodies need to get behind one set of guidelines, balanced between the needs of public sector and private sector clients as well as those of design firms, if procurement procedures are to improve.

We all understand that the tendering procedures are in place to provide equal opportunity for ‘suppliers’. However it has been said many, many times that a tender for creative services should be separated from that of manufactured product, construction or implementation services.

Putting out a tender for ‘print’ services, photography or illustration does not entail those firms supplying the solution with its tender.

In all of those cases their past portfolio, amongst other criteria, is used to judge creativity and quality. Why therefore does it appear to be so hard for the same criteria to be used when selecting design firms? Is it lack of accreditation or at least a recognized ‘client guarantee or service charter?

Whatever it is – only a collective and balanced response will move this issue forward to a more positive and appropriate means of engagement between client and creative firm.

With Open Innovation also now being miss understood by some organisations who have mistranslated this valuable IP trading opportunity as a ‘competition’ with ‘a paltry cash prize’, or opportunity to win a fees-for-services project, never more was there a time when the value of design itself and procurement rules were needed.

Collaboration not competition
This is a critical opportunity for the design & innovation associations & professional bodies to collaborate. BDI and its members have produced a significant body of Best Practice material which is has proffered on more than one occasion to the Design Council to enable widespread take-up. Once again we re-make that offer and for the greater good we gladly place our work on the table to be developed & improved upon rather than starting from scratch just because one design association or another wants brand dominance. That will not help the industry – collaboration will.

BDI will go further and propose that a Procurement Code of Conduct and Client Procurement Guidelines be separated from all associations Paid Membership Services. Instead the national and regional bodies large and small should have equal logo endorsement, under a generic title, and provide the guidelines free of charge to all design firms and all clients as opportune throughout the Country.

The Design Council is looking for ways to support the design and innovation trade bodies and encourage collaboration. This could be a great opportunity for the Design Council to fund this work and equally to benefit from the results by utilizing the Best Practice procurement materials to under pin their own Designing Demand programme.

The Design Council has done a good job in raising the message that design brings value to a business. It’s now time to balance that message by equally presenting design as a valuable professional service.

We nervously await the next call from the Ministry of Defense wishing to run a free pitch for the design of the next Harrier Jet and to the winner a few grand and a free seat in the cockpit on the inaugural flight. Thanks but, err…we’d rather not.

Maxine J Horn
British Design Innovation

It’s time for change!