Patricia Howard, creative director of Pie Communications (www.piecommunications.co.uk) is similarly scathing: “We don’t do free pitching. It cheapens the agency-client relationship. Doing work on spec smacks of desperation – it sends the message ‘We don’t value ourselves’, which further translates as, ‘We don’t value the client.’”

Yet Andy Holden, creative director of full-service digital agency Graphico (www.graphico.co.uk), argues that how you view ‘free pitching’ largely depends on the semantics.

“We don’t really see it as ‘free pitching’ – it’s more of an investment. We have a pitch conversion rate much higher than the industry average, and so we think it’s an investment that we recoup when we are working, long term, with the new client.”

One hazard with pitches, free or not, is that ideas pitched by losing agencies can end up being incorporated into the winning agency’s final design solution. “If you want to be involved in a free pitch, go in with your eyes wide open,” warns Paul Davey, of Paul Davey Creative (www.pauldaveycreative.co.uk).

One way to guard against ideas theft is to pitch design expertise, rather than design solutions, he says. “If you say just one thing the client likes he might not choose you, but will nick the idea,” adds Davey. “Clients cannot help cross pollinating the winning pitch with other ideas they saw.”

But by far the biggest drawback with pitching is that they’re a drain on time and money – with no promise of a positive outcome. So how do agencies determine what is an appropriate amount of resources to sink into a pitch?

Graphico’s Andy Holden says that the agency looks to the long term when assessing a pitch’s worth. “We look at the type of work that will result from a win and what it opens up for us as an agency. We consider how it will fit into our portfolio of clients and whether we think it will develop into a long term relationship.”

Going for gold?

For Joe Bakowski the decision is based on the value of the potential project overall, how likely it is that the pitch will be successful, and the seriousness of it.

“Off the back of this you’ll make a decision whether to go for it or not.” Judging the seriousness of a client’s brief takes experience, but there are some obvious ‘tells’, reveals Bakowski.

“You get a feeling for whether clients are really just pissing about, and asking a few agencies about how to repackage, but without any real budget. In these circumstances they’ll say things like ‘We’re considering repackaging and a new look’.”