by Liam Camilleri
Free pitching is a nasty way not to make a living. This rather ugly method of doing business has recently been proposed to some unwilling AGDA ACT members. In one instance a member studio was all but told they would win an account based on their initial submission briefing and presentation even though two other studios would also submit. However, when the member studio refused to submit unpaid design work with their submission in line with the other two studios the prospective client informed the member studio that they would not be considered unless they took up the free pitch 'offer'. No prizes for guessing that this situation went a bit pear shaped!
In response to this ACT Council ran an article in its bi-monthly newsletter Ampersand which briefly discussed a very sticky and complicated scenario. The article follows.
What is free pitching?
Put bluntly, free pitching is selling your design work for free. Nothing! Zilch! Generally this practice happens because a client has asked for unpaid design submissions from a studio, or studios, to determine who best suits their need. Regrettably, it is sometimes at a designer's request that free pitching occurs.
Apart from the obvious, why is this so bad?
The obvious, of course, being that giving your work away is not yet an accepted from of raising -- or even maintaining -- cash flow!
The bad being that a client will not receive the best possible solution that a studio can offer, therefore contradicting the very purpose of a free pitch. This is because free pitching encourages short cuts and guesswork -- if you're not getting paid for your work this stands to reason. A studio practicing free pitching may win, say, one in three submissions, ironically then, it also stands to reason that their fees will be set accordingly to recoup lost income.
To sell your ideas for nothing, or more bluntly, to prostitute your design solutions for free not only damages your own integrity but devalues the entire industry. In most cases a design solution involves the creation of an intangible object; intellectual property -- an idea. A studio's intellectual property is its livelihood. It is this livelihood, this ownership of ideas that the graphic design industry sells to its buyers in order to solve a design problem. It should not be expected that a designer's work is up for grabs at no cost. It just does not make sense in our current economic and cultural environment to do work for free.
What about other industries?
Perhaps the most common comparison with a graphic designer's creative is with an advertiser's creative. Advertising agencies make their money from commissions and media buying, with often far more substantial client budgets than allocated to graphic design. Therefore it can be easier to gamble on a free submission in advertising if the reward is a multi-million dollar account. Also an advertising campaign, in pure cash-flow terms, often lasts longer than say an annual report, strategic plan or brochure.
Imagine asking prospective IT hardware suppliers to each give you a computer just in case you like it and want to buy some more. Imagine asking travel agents to give you an interstate holiday on the premise that you might buy an overseas holiday. Imagine asking architects to design and build you a lounge room on the off chance they could complete the project. Get the pitcher [sic]!
Want to know more on AGDA's free pitching stance?
The purpose of AGDA is to advance excellence in graphic design as a discipline, professional and cultural force. Follow these internet links to get more information on AGDA's considered stance against free pitching.
Free pitching practice note: http://www.agda.asn.au/dm/Free_Pitching.pdf
AGDA's code of ethics: http://www.agda.asn.au/aboutagda/more/codeofethics.html
AGDA's constitution: http://www.agda.asn.au/aboutagda/more/constitution.html
If you have been asked, or even suggested, to complete a free pitch your comments will be wlecomed and valued. Graphic Design as an industry needs to protect itself from unsound business practices like free pitching. Let's hope that with your help and AGDA's this can be achieved.
|Feedback by James Armstrong || Wednesday, 6 February 2008|
"To pitch? Or Portfolio?
Let's not demonise clients or the free competitive pitch process. That's just externalisation.
Having interviewing recently, I observed that designers' experience can vary wildly in both skills and quality. Additionally, the beauty of a design--like most things artistic--is always reliant on the subjective eye of the beholder.
For these two reasons, I can understand why some clients are uncomfortable with commissioning new creative--there's no tangible guarantee at the start of the process that they will receive something suitable. Worse, clients know that designers have a reputation for bad artistic temperament when responding to client instructions. This doesn't promote great industry expectations.
Clients justifiably need a "safety net" when seeking new creative. Sometimes, very inappropriately, they seek this protection financially--via free competitive pitches.
I feel this reaction comes down to their confidence in the design industry (made up largely of SOHOs), NOT a desire to escape payment or devalue the creative services being rendered.
Instead of flatly refusing to pitch, perhaps we should collectively steer clients back to the one client-guarantee of quality we all possess--our portfolios.
Portfolios better demonstrate our varying subjective styles and consistency of work. Combined with our business credentials, I feel it's a far stronger "design pitch" to have with a client.
And best of all--for all involved--it's obligation free.
|Feedback by Darren Hart || Friday, 13 October 2006|
"I have read all the feedback regarding this 'FREEPITCHING' issue· It's quite interesting to hear all the different points of view.
I run a small graphic design & illustration business from home, I've got a great client base and every now and then I might have a few days where the work drops off. Rather than giving away my precious time to 'tyre kickers' I spend it on my own projects, improving my skills, marketing myself or playing with my kids.
The only free bone I'll throw is·
Next time your a bit quiet, trying taking some time off, go home play with the kids (if you have them), go to the gym, go surfing, or whatever· At least you'll be re-energised for when 'that next big project' comes through the door.
This may not put money in the bank, but neither is working for nothing!
Your clients have heard it before and let them hear it again, YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!"
|Feedback by 'I lost my type in the waxer' || Thursday, 1 May 2003|
"...no doubt b'cos, Liam, 'The price is right'!
As long as someone out there is willing to 'give it away' there will always
be people willing to take it"
|Feedback by Peter Macmillan || Monday, 11 November 2002|
"A brief note on the free-pitching issue. First, I am not a
graphic designer - I chanced upon your site looking for someone to help me
with design work for my consulting firm. What I found was a pretty serious
issue, with potentially serious legal implications.
You may be aware that Prof Fels and the ACCC love to come down heavy on
industry players getting together to regulate how they deliver their
services. I used to work for the Good Professor and then with some major
law firms, and I am pretty concerned about the possible Trade Practices Act
problems you guys may be innocently walking into.
May I strongly suggest you get some legal advice before you push too hard
with your Code of Ethics and other mechanisms designed to clamp down on free
pitching. I say this, not because I need the work (would I write this on a
Sunday evening if I wasn't flat out!), but because you could be risking
maximum fines of $10 million for your association and up to $500,000 for the
Now this may all sound a bit over-the-top, especially since from what I read
you all seem genuinely interested in ridding the industry of what you
consider a detrimental practice. I fully agree with your intent even if I
don't fully understand all the issues. The thing is if you want to go down
this path, you will have to follow the right legal processes.
I'm talking about formal authorisation under the trade practices act. This
is where you get a chance, in a public process, to put up your public
interest arguments about what is wrong with free-pitching. In essence, you
have to argue that free-market economics does not work in this particular
area - so the industry needs some self-regulation before it self-destructs!
In my view, your chances of getting this one through are not great. The
ACCC, like many of your clients (and probably some fresh-faced graduates as
noted in the above e-mails) are going to say it all looks like collusion
between competitors who don't want to compete with each other. How do you
counter that one? There are ways of putting up a reasonable case, but it
won't be easy or cheap.
As I said, I'm not in your industry and I probably shouldn't be sticking my
nose into things I don't know too much about, but I get worried when
genuinely concerned people like yourselves are seemingly unaware of the
legal minefield that looms ahead - or that could already be under foot.
All the best, happy to chat further if it might help you. Now I've just got
to work out wether I've just given you a free-pitch...
|Feedback by Andrew Barry || Tuesday, 15 October 2002|
"I've spent many a night staying back at work for drop of the
hat submissions, luckily, in most cases the hard work paid off, but there
was always the what if.
I'm not particularly keen on speculating whether we'd get paid for the job
or not. But wait, there is hope!
One of my recent experiences with submissions had an upside!
The client chose three or four agencies including ours, for an Annual Report
submission & actually offered to pay a fee to every single agency for their
This is a rarity, but if graphic designers as a collective within Australia
educate our clients, and let them know that free submissions is a thing of
the past, it will benefit our industry a great deal, as highlited in recent articles."
"Perhaps the most common comparison with a graphic designer's
creative is with an advertiser's creative. Advertising agencies make their
money from commissions and media buying, with often far more substantial
client budgets than allocated to graphic design.
our industry is continuing to diversify. the traditional graphic design
business model no longer applies. we are being commissioned across a number
of disciplines and the term 'graphic design' appears too narrow in
definition. certianly in the eyes of the client we are seen as another
'agency' - be it graphic design or other - they don't see the difference, we
all provide creative services. in here lies the problem.
advertising agencies (they're not the only ones) continually provide free
creative submissions creating and amplifying client expectations for free
pitches. consider that even if you are not competing directly against these
other industries they are having a direct impact on client expectations for
designers to provide free creative services. goes something like: "well,
all our other agencies do it for free. I can name you big agencies we work
with who NEVER ask us to pay for submissions. as a matter of fact we've
already received some work this morning".... and this is a direct quote.
I fully subscribe to the notion of not providing work for free and it's all
fine and dandy to suggest that we should educate the client etc.. but AGDA
cannot afford to down play the impact associated industries are having on
the free pitching debate.
free pitching seems to be an endemic old-skool practice that isn't going to
go away anytime soon and more needs to be done to combat the practice from
|Feedback by Eunan McKinney || Saturday, 2 March 2002|
"This is the standard response from the Irish Graphic Design
It is incumbent upon the Association to highlight to you that it is contrary
to our professional standards and Code of Conduct for any member to engage
in speculative design work. This is a fundamental principle of the
Association and its membership. The encouragement of such activity is, in
our opinion, a counter productive activity on behalf of the client community
which results in poor results and time management. Primarily because the
Client is assessing poorly conceived ideas based on insufficient information
and inadequate resources to develop. Equally, as an example, if five
participants are invited to pitch, four will be unsuccessful. The time and
resources commitment to these projects, and other such projects, will
ultimately have to be recouped. The obvious implication is an inflationary
practice and one which ultimate labels our profession with an unwarranted
tag of a high-cost professional service.
The GDBA can appreciate the client community's desire to, as they see it,
gather the most creative' ideas, however I would draw their attention to the
GDBA practice directory. This is produced by our Association to specifically
aid the client community in such a task. The directory enables one to select
a number of practices who have suitable experience and who demonstrate a
level of creativity which they believe to be appropriate.
We recommend that having selected a number of practices that one engages in
a meaningful credential dialogue with the selected practices. This will
enable the client comapny to determine which practice it believes it may be
able to work with on a given project. The panel selection should then be
afford an opportunity to query the client on a specific brief, so that they
can subsequently prepare an initial concept presentation. This work should
receive a nominal rejection fee which will at least cover the participating
practices basic time input and materials. Our interest is principally
focused on ensuring that our profession performs to its maximum and that its
members continue to develop visual communication solutions for the client
community which are creative and effective.
|Feedback by Dave || Wednesday, 27 February 2002|
"It's a little about education - the client needs to know that
they're not buying an off-the-shelf item, but an individually designed
project specific for them and their stated and scoped out requirements and
Not an easy process, but essential."
|Feedback by Matthew Sheedy || Friday, 30 November 2001|
"I have just finished my three year Graphic Design course and am
only now becoming aware of this contentious issue.
Students can't practice what they don't learn, and universities can't teach
what they don't know, so the industry should become involved in educating
both on the topic.
Responding to Jason de Hollander's letter (5/9/00) in which he commented
that student design competitions prompted universities to "pimp their own
students" to submit designs: I had the fortune of winning such a competition
and it has been a huge stepping stone for me in the industry. I agree that
the principle of free-pitching is one that can only have a negative impact
on our profession, now and in the future. However, competitions for
students are a fantastic and invaluable way of gaining exposure.
If it were not for such competitions, what platforms could there be for
I would be interested to hear more opinions, from professionals and students
on the question of free-pitching in the form of student competitions.
(Thanks for the AGDA site)"
"Listen....once you train your (potential) clients that they can
get a free pitch, they will expect something discounted or free every time!
We are responsible for creating the ignoranance around the value of
design....time to re-educate! It is up to the universities, colleges,
associations and professionals to educate students, designers and clients
that design is not a free service. Where it starts is YOU."
|Feedback by Patricia Bowler || Friday, 14 September 2001|
"I have lost many jobs because I refuse to free-pitch, in fact
one government organisation was insulted when
I told him that a fee would be charged for my services. I was also
surprised that his comment was "other designers would not charge a fee?"
Some companies treat designers as if it was some sort of competetion,
best design wins attitude. The best comment I once got was, but your artists
I thought you guys just love what your doing, ah! der!
If we all take a stand and refuse to accept this, our clients will have
more respect for this industry. Another excuse is, they want to see what
sort of designer you are? So I just show them my portfolio. Anon, build
yourself a portfolio that you can be proud of and get some experience with
other designers, or you could end up free pitching forever, or those 'big
men' in a 'big corporation' will just stomp all over you!"
|Feedback by anon || Thursday, 2 August 2001|
"All designers, young guns or older
guns should keep to the deep philosophical visual communications and stand
by its ethics. Yes, it's all about getting the client, big bucks and
prestige but where do you stand as a professional?"
|Feedback by Carey Rohrlach || Sunday, 1 July 2001|
"When presented with the situation of a long standing client
asking for a free pitch 'because someone else vying for their custom did',
our response was ' we don't do unpaid submissions'. We lost that job, but
the client returned soon after seeking the professionalism and service that
we had been offering all along. The moral? The same inspiration that drives
businesses/individuals to free pitch is usually the same one that takes
short cuts in the design process and the production - leaving a sour taste
in the mouth all round."
|Feedback by Jon Barratt || Wednesday, 16 May 2001|
"No job, No experience... Free pitching was essential for me to
get the job and some experience."
A very narrow-minded view, anon. Let me ask you this. Where is a fresh college
graduate going to receive the most constructive experience -- working with a
client or with other designers? I would suggest with other designers. My
company and other firms would be in a far better position to offer you a job
if we were not so often crippled by designers who refuse to abide by our
association's Code of Ethics."
|Feedback by Jason den Hollander || Tuesday, 5 September 2000|
"Free pitching - the cancer of our industry
...and yet even those who preach to us that we shouldn't, do it themselves. I
have been disappointed too many times in a competitive situation to
'enlighten' the prospective client to AGDA's stance on free pitching. You
ask them "would you get your car fixed 6 times and only pay the best
mechanic?". They have far too often say, 'Well, we saw such-and-such' this
morning and they were quite happy to do a design submission for free!'. The
worst part was that on scores of occassions these other designers weren't
just 'younguns' trying to get a foot in the door, these were amongst
Melbourne's best (on quite a few occassions they were actually AGDA
How can we educate the next gen of designers when our colleges gladly pimp
their own students every second year to submit designs for the PrintAwards
posters/etc. Sure the winner gets the bucks/award but what about the other
hundreds of students who have just been taught 'It's OK to free-pitch'.
Suppliers do the same with calendars, etc
My point is, what is to stop BHP calling their next Annual Report a
'competition' and giving only the winner the 'prize'?
Even AGDA have been actively involved in this practice! Some years ago they asked thier members to submit free designs for the new
livery for PATEFA
As to 'why do you ask for unpaid design work'?
Because it's available. Only you can stem the supply!!!"
"No job, No experience. Fresh from college, trying to convince
some 'big men' in a 'big corporation' to let me design a webpage & logo for
one of their new divisions. Free pitching was essential for me to get the
job and some experience."
|Feedback by Liam Camilleri || Friday, 14 July 2000|
"C'mon people this is a real issue. I fail to believe that there
is a business out there that has not been struck by the free pitching bogey.
Maybe you think unpaid submissions are a great idea. Whatever, this is the
forum to share your views. That includes -- especially includes -- buyers
of graphic design. I want to know why you ask for unpaid design work."