Free creative pitching turns ugly.

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Design and journalism is hungry work, so it was with growling stomach that I managed to pick the lock on the editorial shackles and sneak off to the nearest semi-posh restaurant, crisp fiver in hand. While browsing the ketchup-stained laminate menu (told you, semi-posh) and drumming the formica table top, an idea leapt forth. What <BR>
if everything else had to follow the same rules of design? 
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Actually, what if they had to only follow one rule: everything and everyone had to pitch to get me to buy into their services? And the best bit? They had to do it for free. 
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Cue entrance of apron-wearing waiter, and I’m in business. Egg, ham, chips, and peas, please – but, ahem, would they mind if I ate it all first and, if I didn’t like it, y’know, or changed my mind, or discovered my fiver was in fact Monopoly money, then I could just, well, leave? Oh, and could I get the short order chef (the one with really dirty fingernails) to explain how he plans to cook it. In PowerPoint, if you don’t mind? Please. 
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It was only later, queuing for a MacDonalds and nursing a swollen lip, did the lesson about how aggressive waiters can be, and how aprons, when flicked right, can really sting, sink in. 
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A week of painful experimentation followed. Persuading a clan of bus drivers to convince me to travel their route in exchange for a free ride and the chance to be a backseat driver during the entire journey left me stranded. Asking for the sports pages to read for free before I made up my mind which newspaper to buy left me out in the cold. The local pizza palace rebuffed my offer of letting me sample each topping in advance. 
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So, why is it only the creative industry that is forced into offering up its wares for free, in advance, with no guarantee of work? In short, why is life such a pitch? 
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The reason I’ve been starving, and having to walk everywhere, is that no other industry in its right mind would entertain the notion of free pitching. Yet it’s standard practice for designers – from the smallest studio to the largest agency – to invest thousands in terms of money and hours in order to impress an often clueless and politically motivated client. Who, in many cases, is in it for the free coffee, goodie bag ‘incentive’, and the ideas which he’ll nick and then lamely try to recreate in Word back at the office. 
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According to a report by British Design Innovation, the average design agency spends a whopping £38,000 on free pitches. That’s a lot of egg and ham by anyone’s standards. 
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Time is also a massive investment – roughly four solid months by one person each year. And the great bit: over a quarter of projects simply aren’t awarded to agencies after the pitch. Potential clients just wander away after wasting all your time, leaving egg – but no ham – on your face. 
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The report found that paid-for pitches resulted in a much- greater chance of winning the job. Asking larger clients to fund your creative thinking isn’t a bad thing, and design studios should really look to evaluate the free pitches they’re asked to enter into. So, is it time free pitching ended? 
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