This is why hitting all the marks before and during the pitch is the surest means creatives have of success. “If your core concept is strong, your domain knowledge is good, and your work looks good and is well-presented, you’re giving yourself the best chance,” concludes Paul Davey.


Some agencies rely on free pitching more than others to build a client roster. For those that choose not to free pitch, what are the alternatives?

Print agency Stocks Taylor Benson relies on recommendations for 85 per cent of its work, reveals managing director Joe Bakowski. “This never involves any pitching in the traditional sense at all,” he says. “Someone from a company comes to you because that company has worked with you before. They’ll usually invite you to show them what you’ve done.”

The difference between this and a pitch, explains Bakowski, is that in a pitch situation “the company is saying that it thinks it can work with you, and is inviting you to do a theoretical piece of creative work that it will use as the final decision criteria”.

Surviving on recommendations rather than pitches is dependent on two things – outstanding work and a solid reputation. Paul Davey, creative director of Paul Davey Creative, says: “Build a reputation for great work and outstanding service and word of mouth will do the rest.”

Recent research by the Design Business Association ( showed that almost a quarter of designers believe they should insist on being paid the full cost of preparatory pitch work, but paid pitching remains far less common than its unloved free counterpart.

Bakowski can see why: “There are some companies that will pay a nominal fee towards your costs, to show they’re serious, but I’m realistic enough to understand that few companies are going to want to run a proper paid pitch for five agencies.”

He adds that the pitching issue is far from clear-cut, because what is pitching for one agency is a new business meeting for another. “You can start to get philosophical about it. Say you’ve had three new-business development meetings with a company and they say at the end of this sequence of meetings that they’re going to give you a test brief, where you’ll do a £2,000 job for free, and that if you do that OK they’ll give you the work.

“This to my mind is the legitimate end of free pitching, where you have qualified everything, you know that you can work together and really it’s just about clearing the last hurdle.”

Mark Tomkins, Aubergine’s creative director, contends that educating clients is the key to agencies avoiding dreaded free pitch situations.

“Clients and potential clients need to be educated in what kind of service they can expect. Over the past couple of years we have successfully approached clients on the basis that we will undertake fixed-price, paid-for initial concept work, perhaps up against one or two other agencies in order to determine design style and whether the client and agency get on.

“This means that time is paid for and the client can see a broad selection of creative work without it either prostituting the agency or costing the client the earth.”

One of the designs that Graphico Presented to music Web site Slice the Pie when they pitched for the site’s branding and design contract.

Stock Taylor Benson’s designs appear on the shelves of Morrisons.

Size matters

According to a recent Design Council survey, free pitching is a way of life for most designers. Almost half of all design agencies (44 per cent) and freelancers (43 per cent) say they have to pitch creatively for free either always or frequently.

Yet less than a third of the designers surveyed agreed that free pitching should be just accepted as a routine way of winning business, and fees should be adjusted accordingly.

At the opposite end of the scale, 23 per cent thought designers should insist on being paid the full cost of preparatory work. Interestingly, the Design Council’s survey found that size of agency influenced the success of a free pitch.

According to its survey results, consultancies with more than five employees win 66 per cent of their pitches, whereas those with fewer than five staff win only 33 per cent. These figures bear out the significant manpower hours successful design agencies have to dedicate to the business of free pitching.
Figures from the Design Council’s Design Industry Research 2007

Tips for perfect pitching

  • Do your research: this promotes confidence.
  • Rehearse, so you’re all singing from the same sheet.
  • Tailor your presentation to the client and sector.
  • Dress smartly – even if you’ve been working all night, running on coffee, fags and pizzas.
  • Don’t crowd the room with too many bodies.
  • Never, ever be late.
  • Relax, and speak slowly.
  • Don’t read from notes or use slides as a crutch.
  • Be yourself.
  • Remember people’s names.
  • Don’t pitch ideas: pitch expertise.
  • Know when to listen and when to talk.
  • Don’t criticize your client or your competitors.
  • Believe in your own work.
  • Have a unique selling point.
  • Know when to bring the pitch to a close neatly, elegantly and courteously.
  • Leave behind any presenting boards or samples of work for the client to look at.
  • Don’t try to answer questions to which you don’t know the answer.

This successful 13 Souls pitch was for a range of T-shirt designs pitched to an independent fashion designer – they’re currently in development.

Stocks Taylor Benson used this artwork when pitching to the boardwear label Freespirit.

Paul Davey recently unsuccessfully pitched a Blackberry-type device, called Satsuma. “The Satsuma concepts were for a free pitch I did with a marketing consultant client of mine. Although we were unsuccessful it seems the product was, too. People seem to prefer the taste of blackberries!”

Stocks Taylor Benson’s promotional literature for Antalis, Europe’s largest paper merchant.

Graphico’s pitch for Slice The Pie.

13 Souls successfully pitched this Web design to the Canadian musician Ky Anto

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