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Free pitching is a bit like going to the dentist

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Recently I had all four of my wisdom teeth removed. The experience was not dissimilar to the free pitches I've taken part in; horribly painful but unavoidable. And afterwards you feel you've left a little piece of yourself behind...

Free pitching, also called speculative work, is the name given to the process where a client will invite several agencies to produce proposals to solve their brief. Sound fair so far? Well, the design agencies do this work for free, as in without being paid, and the client is under no obligation to hire anyone at the end of the pitching process. This is the nature of today's design industry, it's a buyers market and if you don't want to play by the rules, there are plenty of agencies out there who will.

Think about it some more. In order to put together a decent solution to a brief serious time and effort has to be expended, creative candles burnt at both ends and then through the middle, costs, estimates and strategies to be calculated and all fitted around other, actual paid work. And the more work that is done speculatively, the more people who hire designers will expect it to be the norm. In fact the time taken away from other projects is potentially very harmful to a design agency.

So why is it allowed to go on, I hear you cry? Many designers have argued that it shouldn't be allowed at all, that the design industry as a whole should take a stand and refuse to work speculatively, there's even a dedicated site for designers to vent their frustrations. This is, fairly obviously, unlikely to happen within a free and open market and it could be argued that to do so is a breach of trade ethics and tantamount to price fixing. In fact, in the interests of putting forward a balanced viewpoint, there might even be some benefits to free pitching. It gives design agencies the chance to pitch to clients that might otherwise be out of their reach, following the old adage 'speculate to accumulate.'

Free pitching is, I believe, a necessary evil that designers have decided to live with. It might not be fair and it might not be right, but according to a survey done by the Design Council almost half of design consultancies (44%) and freelancers (43%) say that "they either always or frequently have to pitch creatively for free".

It remains one the painful realities of the modern design industry, a product, like crowd-sourcing and unpaid internships, of a near-terminally competitive world.

About Alan Offord
Alan is a recent graduate from the University of the Creative Arts in Maidstone, Kent, where he studied Graphic Design. After a year spent doing placements at various agencies in London, Brighton and around Norfolk, he now works as a Junior Designer in Norwich at Soak Digital.
Visit Alan's blog

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