A client’s argument against free-pitching

John Scarrott and the Design Business Association thought it would be interesting to get a client’s perspective on free pitching, so asked Tom Foulkes, marketing director of Peter Brett Associates, about how he buys design expertise.

“Fundamentally, we believe the creative pitch is commercially toxic and is a tradition the marketing profession can do without. Commercially toxic may sound a little over the top but here are some of the potential hidden consequences of the creative pitch that can have a negative impact on a business, post decision.”

Read about the consequences (and about Tom’s preferred method for buying design) over on Design Week.

In for a penny, in for a pounding

Joe Rinaldi, VP of business development at Happy Cog, wrote an excellent article aimed at design clients about how spec work doesn’t just threaten the design businesses that take part, it threatens the clients’ companies and their projects, too.

“Each time agencies pre-invest in spec work, they mortgage their organizations on winning the work and the payment that will follow. Because their sales process includes unpaid design and development work before a project is officially “won,” the pressure is on the person in a business development position to “sell the creative.” If the work goes unsold, agencies operate at a deficit — one that increases as they continue to lose spec-work-driven pitches. Staff are often overtaxed having to create pitch work on top of a regular workload, which can contribute to more frequent staff turnover (another risk to your project).”

Read Joe’s full post here: War on Spec, on the Happy Cog blog.

Refuse to work for nothing

DA&D’s past President Mike Dempsey shared his thoughts on the recent speech given to young design graduates by D&AD chairman Dick Powell. Mike Dempsey said:

“This attitude dovetails into the alarming increase in free pitching that now runs throughout our industry, from the smallest to the most prestigious firms. Every company that embraces this and the acceptance of unpaid work for graduates is devaluing the worth of what we do. Powell’s active recommendation of ‘working for free’ simply adds to the view that what we all do is pretty low-grade, worthless stuff. A very sad state of affairs to hear this communicated by D&AD.”


“For what it’s worth, my recommendation to any design graduate is to refuse to work for nothing. And while pursuing job prospects, keep active by initiating your own projects to keep the creative muscles sharp. When I first started out, I would visit bookshops, pinpoint badly designed covers and in my spare time at home I would redesign them. That act eventually led to a job. A paid job.

“Don’t give up: believe in yourself.”

Read the full article on Mike Dempsey’s Graphic Journey Blog.

Mike Dempsey
Past D&AD President Mike Dempsey, photo via johnson banks

Donating the unpaid labor of others

Steve Douglas wrote an in-depth piece about “the arrogance of crowdsourcing,” where he talks about the design contest for the Dallas Mavericks. He also reviews “unofficial” contests for Sony Playstation, Daft Punk, and Manchester United, where spec work websites “have nothing to lose — they’re donating the unpaid labor of others.”

“It’s a copyright and trademark quagmire. And as is always the case, it’s the designers that are out the time, talent and creative energy, without one iota of protection for their efforts. All of this to benefit rich – and growing richer – businesses that seek to exploit their unpaid efforts.”

Crowdspring Dallas Mavericks

Read the full post on The Logo Factor.

The dangers of speculative design

Lisa Barrett of Birmingham-based Sixth Story published the studio’s experience of speculative design, where the “pitches” they ultimately lost ended up looking very similar to the designs that were actually used.

“We produced some branding work, name generation and packaging concepts for a start up business in order for them to secure funding and investment to take a product to market. We agreed that if the product was successful in going into the production stage we would be the sole design agency and all work done to that date would be billable.

“It turned out that wasn’t to be the case and in fact our initial brand and product packaging ideas would be taken to the manufacturer for their in house designers to work with, and we wouldn’t be paid.

“A month or so later we find our work featuring on the website of the individual, with no accreditation or mention of our contribution. They even took our ideas and found themselves on a well known BBC programme.”

Sixth Story spec design
Sixth Story design work

Read the full post on the Sixth Story blog: The dangers of speculative design.

Via @MatDolphin.

Interview Request: Alternatives to Free Pitching

Alternatives to Free Pitching

Free pitching has long been an issue with designers. Some designers are for, some against, while others aren’t sure which way to jump. Do you?

Below is a request for help from a writer compiling research for a paper on free pitching.

I now turn you over to Sean Ashcroft…

I am a design journalist, and I am currently writing a white paper exploring alternatives to free pitching, and am seeking to interview, by email, design practitioners who do not engage (or rarely engage) in free pitching, but instead win new clients using alternative means.

Please note: This report will require in-depth answers from interviewees.


  • Please provide a brief career biography (current job title, agency name, age, location, etc).
  • What strategies other than free pitching do you employ to win new business?
  • Can you gives one or two in-depth examples of how you have implemented these?
  • Have you / your agency specialized your offering either by:
    i) Design discipline (EG: Mobile apps, human interaction design, etc)
    ii) Sector (EF: marine, construction, property, city branding, etc).
    If yes, please give details.
  • If you answered yes to either part of Q4, how important has this differentiation been to your non-reliance on free pitching?
  • Has your current agency ever engaged in free pitching? If yes, how did you implement change?
  • Do you have any faith in the ability of design bodies to change the culture of free pitching?
  • What is the most important piece of advice you can give to agencies who can see no alternative to free pitching?

Thank you in advance for any help you are able to offer.
If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Please contact me via either of the sites below, or sean ashcroft.

Sean Ashcroft
Journalist and writer
zyzzyva: Helping designers differentiate
Planet Client: Helping designers win clients, retain clients and understand clients

NO!SPEC’s Quote of the Century…

Paul Rand paraphrased by Steve Jobs

I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution. If you want options, go talk to other people. But I’ll solve the problem for you the best way I know how. And you can use it or not – that’s up to you. You are the client. But you pay me.

Nice. Very.

CreativePro: Spec Work and Crowdsourcing

Spec Work and Crowdsourcing, when will they ever learn?

Pamela Pfiffner, writer and founding editor of CreativePro.com, recently put together a timely article for designers: Spec Work and Crowdsourcing: Gambles that Don’t Pay Off.

The economy’s in the toilet and you’re hungry for jobs, so you’re working on spec or posting designs to sites like CrowdSpring. It’s understandable. The problem is, spec and crowdsourcing can lower your value and hourly rates so far that minimum wage looks like a fat paycheck. Here’s what to do instead.

Quoted in the article are two eloquent fighters against all things spec: Steve Douglas and Jeff Fisher.

Steve Douglas of The Logo Factory: “According to [CrowdSpring’s] home page, designers have submitted over 219,000 entries” as of this April 2009. “If we average each entry out to an hour’s worth of a designer’s time, and that’s a hugely underrated figure, that equates to 25 years of unpaid designer labor.”

Jeff Fisher of Jeff Fisher LogoMotives: “The only thing worse than a potential client who does not value the efforts of a professional graphic designer is a designer who doesn’t appreciate the value of their own time and work.”

I know you can read the article for yourself (and I hope you do). But the reason I’m placing their quotes here is because of their tireless fight against spec work.

That’s right. Crusades may come and go, but the real heroes are those who fight the long fight.

So THANK YOU Steve, Jeff, Pamela, Terri and everyone else out there who continues to say NO to spec.

99designs: Bullshit 2.0 | I’m a Proud Weenie! | Blowing Competitions Up, and Other Acts of Good Citizenship

Spec Conversation Roundup:

graphicPUSH: 99designs: Bullshit 2.0

Kevin: “99designs was started by designers for designers”. I am struggling to form the intensely negative, logic-dismantling superlatives I need to accurately convey the sheer depth of absolute bullshit this clump of words was pulled from. This is one of the most hollow and forced statement I have ever seen. It insults everything about the real-world graphic design industry and the hard-working professionals that make a living building long-term client relationships, crafting deep and varied portfolios, and routinely putting their blood, sweat and tears into their work.

Freelance Switch: Freelance Radio, Episode 12: I’m a Proud Weenie!

FS: This episod’s theme is spec work. We talk about our own opinions on the controversial issue, and also refer repeatedly to the No Spec project.

Design Altruism Project: Blowing Competitions Up, and Other Acts of Good Citizenship

David Stairs: From the last weeks of summer onward I am bombarded with e-mail urging me to involve students in ‘œreal world’ design situations. Without sounding too cynical about the practice, it seems to me that the outside solicitations of my students’ involvement are a means for organizations and/or corporations to garner spec work and public relations kudos under the guise of being good neighbors.

Separate conversations. Various takes. All worthwhile.