Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pitching, pitching and more pitching...

Pitching – reminds me of when I used to play Risk as a kid – if you win you are on top of the world and you go round punching the air.  You lose – you wonder why you invested so much time playing only to be trounced by your enemies and come away with nothing.

As a lot of designers and creatives I know are in "pitch hell" at the moment I thought I would do a quick informal survey to find out what is going on, and get some philosophies on the pitching process.

In the course of my research I found out: that 22 companies were invited to pitch for Den, RTÉ's children’s channel.  Even more bizarrely they were all asked to arrive at the same hotel on the same day to present their work -  some had flown in from the States for the occasion, and by all accounts it was standing room only. The person who commissioned the pitch (no names!) later had the good manners to be embarrassed about it and blamed his bosses for the confusion.

I was also told of an occasion when a leading British branding company was asked to pitch on one of the A&E channels in the US.  They thought that they had come up with a great idea and flew over there to present.  After 30 seconds they were asked to leave because their treatment involved timeslice and that had already been done to death in the States at that point.

I also found out that in 1986 the three leading London Graphics companies at the time were offered £60,000 just to pitch for the BBC1 & 2 idents by Alan Yentob. It went to Lambie Nairn that time, but I'm sure the others were not complaining….
So, is pitching a genuine opportunity for new work and a chance to exercise your creativity, or is it just a chance for clients to garner free thinking and ideas from top professionals?  I think the answer is both – depending on who is asking you to do the work.  From asking around I have heard about "ghost pitches" – where several companies are asked to pitch, but the client knows who they want to do the job before hand – they just have to show their bosses that they are going through a "fair" pitch process!

I have heard that in the US that there are budgets for pitching. – we all know that in Europe and the Middle East and most other places there are not.  Several people I asked said that if a client could at least offer a "token" amount of money, then people would be so much more motivated psychologically  - if you are busy you will have to take a day or days out to work on the ideas and put the storyboards together, you could at least hire a freelancer to cover your work whilst you work on the new ideas.

One company summed it up thus: the submission you give for a Pitch answers the wrong question .  In order to win the job you have to answer the question "what is the best way to impress the people in the room at the time".  This may not be the same answer to the question "What is best for the brand?"  If this is true then a pitch is simply a one-off piece of theatre written for a one off performance to a very small number of people.  It may not be a break through piece of brand thinking.

What has changed for certain is that now everyone has access to After Effects and Apple G5s – the quality of the visuals have too look a lot better than they used to.  I remember when I started out all pitches were delivered as hand drawn story boards!  Now the norm is very sophisticated still frames and often some sort of moving visuals arrive for the client to consider.

Does extra sophistication mean bigger budgets?  After a quick straw poll of  ident producers I found out that in the year 2000 the budget for a large branding project would have been £1million, a medium size project £600,000 and a small one £250,000.  The current budget for a big project? Approx £150,000!

Unfortunately there can be no set conclusions to this process – whether you take on a pitch can depend on how busy you are (better to be doing something rather than nothing, right?), how cool the job is (there's no money in it, but it will look good on the reel…), and how many others are pitching with you.

The only thing you can do is temper your expectations and ask as many questions as possible about the likes and dislikes of the client (maybe they hate the colour red, or the timeslice technique…)and go into it with your eyes open. The sad thing is that the unpaid pitch makes it more difficult for all designers to carry on, and that the clients will only realise that this resource has been eroded when it is too late.  If only we could get a bunch of the top companies together to lobby for minimal funding of pitches - it would do the industry a world of good both psychologically and financially.

sorry - got to go, my phone is ringing, and there's a pitch coming in...

Many thanks to people at Dare, Blac Ionica, Kemistry, Redbee, Brian Eley and James Roberts for contributing to this post


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Thiago Maia A.K.A Guera said...

It is funny to see this post Tim. We are starting a snowball against "SPEC" work this year and I will push it with See No Evil

As a professional, we shouldn't work for free. Or maybe I should ask a few lawyers to write me a letter and pay the one that wrote me the best letter? The world doesn't work like that, so why should we Designers/Directors/Animators work?

I used to get pay to pitch in UK, but it has being changed in the last 3 years and only few companies are paying me to pitch nowadays.

I think if everyone get together and say "NO", it will need to change, or clients will need to get someone with no experience to do the job, and in the end will loose money.

It is the same with competitions. The client pay peanuts for who own and end up with hundreds of free idea. Is it fair? I don't think so.

We are signing a letter against it and I think it will go on air tomorrow. i will post the link here as soon as it is up.

We will fight against "SPEC" work!


Thiago Maia A.K.A Guera said...

The letter is up and the fight will start:

Original post:

Support by:

dann said...

Hi Tim,

Good theme, thanks. Spec work or pitches are even institutionalized by the EU. Public channels have to pitch out the work to get the best quote possible. Maybe fine (saving money) if you're in need of rails or tarmac. Not so good when you're in need of great creative or solid strategy.

Pitches, at best, are a way for clients to experience the teams they would like to work with and get a taste of their thinking. When you limit the field to 3 companies and ask studios to present ideas on approach and insights in their thinking and method that seems valid. Even better when rewarded with a small fee. That means both client and agency add value and respect to the project.

When the competition is open because of EU legislation you end up with a ridiculous amount of random agencies. The amount of money spent by all parties on the RTE pitch probably dwarfs the production budget.

On that note. We can't blame clients for the agencies that actually produce finished pieces for pitches.

At a Promax session someone once lectured that pitches are 80% won by building the relationship and only 20% percent by the ideas presented. I guess that's where the investment should be. Getting to know our clients and their brand challenges.

Looking at the clients. How many agencies do you want to invest time in? How many times do want explain the brief in depth and share the insights and information outside the brief that is needed to drive your brand forward. 20 companies?
I can't imagine.