Life\'s a pitch

By The Drum, Administrator

January 3, 2006 | 4 min read

The creative industries pitch process is a constant source for debate, causing much angst between agencies and client organisations – particularly in the design, advertising and PR sectors.

The subject of free pitching often raises issues of inappropriate procurement procedures, unethical or whimsical pitches, poor etiquette, restriction of the creative process, barriers to relationship building and a negative impact on productivity. The purpose of British Design Innovation’s (BDI) research was to establish the cost of free pitching, its impact on productivity and to highlight some of the current poor procedures in place. The aim? To encourage more appropriate ‘best practice’ procedures that benefit both agency and commissioning organisations alike.

BDI surveyed over 200 design teams and a number of large client businesses. The client research offers further insight and understanding into how leading buyers of design services appoint design agencies and the issues they face during the identification, evaluation and appointment process.

The research respondents are blue-chip organisations with significant marketing departments and budgets representing the ‘who’s who’ of global and UK brands.

Although the research released by BDI deals with the views of the design sector, the issues are reflective of the problems faced by the creative services sector as a whole. Predictably, when comparing the results of the surveys, it is clear that there are fundamental differences between agencies and clients attitudes towards the pitch and appointment process.

Sixty-three per cent of respondents have been involved in private sector free pitches where the opportunity was withdrawn post pitch.

Reasons given (in private sector) for withdrawing opportunity post-free pitch process:

oLack of budget to proceed: 39 per cent

oChange of mind by decision maker: 34 per cent

oNo reason given: 34 per cent

oChange of business direction: 26 per cent

oChange of marketing strategy: 26 per cent

oChange of personnel: 25 per cent

oFailure to secure board approval: 24 per cent

Over a third gave no reason for an opportunity being withdrawn and formal feedback on why an agency was unsuccessful in a pitch is rarely given. Even in paid pitches only 15 per cent of agencies claimed to receive satisfactory, formal feedback. Over 50 per cent of respondents also feel they have been used to ‘make up the numbers ’ in both private and public sector tenders. There are many instances cited where the result was a foregone conclusion.

The cost of pitching

Based on the sample of respondents the following indicative figures were generated:

oThe average annual cost to an agency that

engages in free pitching is £38,000.

oThe average annual expenditure by agencies

participating in paid pitching is £25,000.

oThe number of man-hours spent on free

pitching per annum is 608 hours.

oThe number of hours spent on paid pitching

per annum is 400 hours.

o65 per cent of design companies surveyed

selectively engage in free pitching. 16 per cent

take up every invitation to free pitch. 14 per

cent claim to never free pitch.

o42 per cent of respondents believe that

requests for free pitches have risen in the past

12 months.

oThe average number of agencies invited to

participate in a free pitch is six, this drops

down to three in a paid pitch. It suggests that

the selection process is far less rigorous in the

free pitch process and thereby the chances of

winning new business are significantly



It is clear from the research results that the pitch process needs a serious review.

Agencies respect an organisation’s need to ensure that they appoint the most appropriate agency whose experience, personality, creative ability, cost structure and reliability best suit their business needs. However, these factors can all be determined by the commissioning organisation by committing more of its own time to identify appropriate agencies, meet with them and eliminate those without the right skills prior to issuing any formal invitation to respond to a brief.

Design agencies themselves could improve upon their own approaches to new business development. The results of research carried out amongst commissioning organisations makes interesting reading. Agencies have been accused of lack of transparency regarding cost proposals, arrogance and not listening to the client.


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