With CEO’s and board members to convince, buying in design work can be tricky. To manage the risk you might pit a handful of designers or agencies against each other in a pitch or a Request for Proposal.

In theory this gives you the best price and makes the process feel less risky. But pitches are full of their own pitfalls. And pitching now fuels an inefficient buying process that is abused more often than used.

So, with that in mind, here are three reasons to ditch the pitch on your next project.

1. Hidden inefficiencies

According to recent research by Up To The Light, 98% of clients want their agency to do free pitches. The same survey also shows that 73% of clients want agencies to work “more efficiently.” Sadly these two goals are directly related and incompatible.

If a designer or agency needs to enter 20 pitches per year to get 5 projects, that’s 15 pitches worth of work in the bin. As you can imagine a 75% business loss rate is significantly higher than most businesses. As a result, agency rates have to reflect the amount of free work they need to do to stay in business. The more pitches agencies need to do, understandably their rates will have to go up.

2. Blind auctions

Clients often ask their designer to give them their best quote in a “blind auction” as part of a pitch. This should give the client more value for money. But what happens more often, is that the agencies feel they have to go as low as possible just to win the work. It is only much later on that the true cost reveals itself, which can lead to a painful renegotiation of the project.

Here’s a tip about project discounts. Most agencies and designers don’t change their rates at all. So if you have a budget of £17k, you’ll get £17k’s worth of work from them. If you need to cut that to £14k, then you’ll get £14k’s worth of work. So by far the easiest way to avoid any awkwardness is to work out how much you are happy to spend and stick to it. That way there are no nasty “surprises” later on.

3. Short cuts

Good design work is the result of trust between client and the designer. And that trust comes from spending time together and building a mutual understanding.

Designers should want to know all about you, your product or service and your target market. The problem with pitch work, is that the designer has to short cut all of that stuff. It’s a bit like trying to tailor a bespoke suit without seeing the person. The suit work might look nice, but it may also be the wrong size, or the wrong fit.

How to ditch the pitch

Now I know what you’re saying, if we want good value shouldn’t we look at price? Oddly, the answer is no. Instead we should focus on value. For more on that, check out my post on the value of design.

One of the biggest problems with pitching, is that it puts the focus on price throughout the project. Instead it’s better to focus on the point of doing the work in the first place. It’s about re-positioning your brand, launching a new product or dispelling myths about what you do. In other words, the creative work has a job to do. If it fails then any money you save is irrelevant anyway.

A better way

The good news is, there is a better way. That is to ditch the pitch completely.

Next, find a few designers you’d like to talk to. Tell them your budget and ask them how they can get the most value out of that money. Explain what you want to achieve. Talk about your business and where you want to go next. Let them explain how they can help you meet your goals with their work. It is way more gratifying to spend a project talking about a shared commitment to those goals than haggling over pennies.

Think of this as the starter in a 3 course meal. This is where you get to see if you actually gel together as people, rather than trying to skip straight to dessert. Once you feel comfortable with a designer, get them in on your project. Let them go away and try to exceed your expectations. If it doesn’t work, pay them what you owe them and move on to the next one.

When it all clicks, you’ll get amazing work for a fair price.

And that’s what pitching was always supposed to be about.

And now, watch this amusing video of a guy trying to get other businesses to work on spec.

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