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Free pitching – clients pay in the end

Free pitching has always been a blot on the landscape for design agencies and we more often than not decline to take part in the process. We will, however, always consider paid-for pitches in the right circumstances. I thought I’d take the time to put our view forward as to why speculative pitching or free pitching is wrong, and how clients end up paying in the end anyway.



Considerable time and effort is required to prepare serious design proposals for any project. Creative proposals prepared without payment for a competitive pitch involving several other design agencies can only be speedily prepared, scantily researched and superficial. They cannot be based on a genuine understanding of the client’s business and objectives. In short, the proposals will not achieve the standards of professionalism which we commit to.


What about intellectual property rights?

Design businesses automatically own all the rights in the work they produce. If creative work is supplied in a free pitch, the client has no rights to use that work until a contract is agreed.

Inexperienced and unprofessional clients have been known to ask to retain creative work supplied by all the agencies involved in free pitches. The clients then make that creative work available to the successful consultancy with the suggestion that some elements of each design are included in the final work.

This is highly illegal and alienates professional design businesses from that client damaging the prospects of the client acquiring truly effective design solutions.



Design agencies are selling design talent and expertise. To give away creative work is therefore to give away all. This contrasts with other professions, such as advertising agencies, for whom the creative element of a project often accounts for only a small proportion of the total remuneration they can hope to gain by winning the pitch. They are sometimes understandably more willing to speculate with their creative work, although as we suggest above, the relevance and quality of that work might be open to question.


Clients pay in the end

Design consultancies are commercial organisations. They need to make a profit. If speculative pitching becomes widespread, clients would simply find the cost of speculative pitches being reclaimed through higher fees and charges throughout the industry.


Our suggested way of commissioning design

1. Draw up a list of three or four consultancies. Google is your best friend here! You can find details of consultancies in all sectors of design, in all regions, plus their specialisations and contact information.

2. Provide a brief indicating overall design objectives, budget and time scale for the project, including any special requirements or terms. In some cases clients will find they cannot establish a full brief until they have an opportunity to discuss a project in detail with a consultancy in whom they place confidence.

3. Interview each consultancy and ask them to submit:

a presentation of their relevant credentials

methodology statement to indicate how they would approach the project

a proposal of work stages and fees required for carrying out the project, together with the terms and conditions for an appointment.

4. If it’s considered important that the competing design agencies carry out some preparatory work for their credentials presentations, a fixed amount of money should be offered to each to cover their time and expenses.

5. Choose and appoint in writing one of the design consultants and notify the other unsuccessful consultants.

We believe that great work stems from teamwork and a firm commitment by both client and design consultant to achieve the best result. If you’d like more help choosing the right design agency for you then we have a free e-book to download.

Download a free copy of our ‘Top tips to choosing the right creative agency for you’ here.

Midlands Design Agency