Last updated August 2022
No matter what you call it, Spec Work, Free Pitch, etc the concept is the same. I’ll get a handful of designers or studios to come up with a handful of concepts for my website, and the winner gets my business.
Great concept? No! There are no winners when it comes to the monster called free pitch.
What’s in it for the client? They get to pick and choose amongst mediocre designs, which you can bet your shiny crayons haven’t been well briefed or developed. Why? I hear you ask – well, why would you spend much time on the prospect of possibly getting paid down the track?
This recently happened to me – in fact, the offer was given to me, but I turned it down. Sad part of this whole affair was the prestigious nature of the prospect, who, being a university, should really know better.
Free pitching devalues your work
Why would I want to pay for your time, if you are happy to give some of it away free?
Free pitching hurts all of your clients
Someone needs to pay for your time and materials, and there is no doubt you’ll make all of your clients pay for that privilege.
Free pitching produces crap work
You aren’t going to go through the entire scoping and discovery process, when you aren’t getting paid. Nor is the client going to spend that amount of time with five of you, knowing they will kick four of you out soon enough.
Free pitching makes the client look stupid
The client deep down knows it’s a dumb idea, just like it’d be a dumb idea to allow me to obtain a degree from them, and if the education ‘works out’, I’ll pay for it later.
Free pitching hurts the entire industry
Cowboys who are willing to ignore all sensibilities and continue to do this speculative work encourage others who aren’t as well educated to compete, by doing the same. Great! An entire industry of free workers.
Free pitching is a big sign saying ‘We’re going broke’
If a client isn’t willing to pay for your time now, why would they later? What is the actual reason they wont pay? Is it because they are teetering on implosion, or do they honestly think it’ll save them a few bucks? Do you want clients who penny pinch anyway?
Free pitches encourages less planning
Encouraging you to spend a couple of hours whipping up some pitch concepts means the client doesn’t want you to actually explore what their communication goals are, what their requirements ultimately dictate or any of that ‘boring stuff’. They just want to see the ‘shiny things’ and throw all professionalism to the wind.
So, the end result of our recent ‘opportunity’? Well, alongside my own firm turning them down, there are rumours that a number of other Perth web companies did the same. Good work team – we don’t need these cowboys telling us our work is not worth charging for. Let’s pray they don’t teach their students to ask for free work.
Want to read up further on the monster called free pitch? There’s a great site called No!Spec and Australian Graphic Designers Association have a great article in PDF here
21 May 2007 at 9:51 pm
LOL – very topical. Interesting a number of Govt Agencies expect spec work. In fact you will not even get to presentation without a Spec at presentation or before. Sad that they expect this. I have found that the Specs are “often” the merging of two or three designs from popular web sites anyway. Your right no one wins. The kicker is how do we stop it.
21 May 2007 at 10:05 pm
I’ve had organisations even send out specs prepared by competitors when looking for a second round of proposals. 😐
How can I possibly bid on a project when I know the company which put together the spec wasn’t paid for it?
The only reasonable course of action is to decline to bid, and explain why. Eventually people come to realise that it’s those who can say “no” who should be trusted.
21 May 2007 at 10:18 pm
Even the ‘winner’ loses – they end up stuck with a client who doesn’t respect or value their work. I’m glad some people are taking a stand though.
27 May 2007 at 7:06 pm
So completely true. Free pitching was rife in the mid to late 90’s when the web work was flooding the market and any loser could “build you a website” of course in the professional market, nothing is free, and nothing is junk.
Leave the free pitching to the clients who want it. As suppliers, we wouldn’t use free resources because we ourselves are not free.
We’ve worked hard to get to where we are, and have earned what comes with that.
Our clients deserve the best we can provide, and if they appreciate our work, then it’s also certainly worth it.
As always, love your work.
29 May 2007 at 10:57 am
Requests for designs before engagement get an instant red flag for me; and a red flag from me pretty much equates to “actively discourage this prospect from communicating with us further”. You’re right – this sort of thing does usually indicate certain attitudes or attributes of the clients’ business that are undesirable in a working relationship … sometimes financing issues, procrasinating behaviour etc.
Clients should be able to tell from your portfolio whether you’ve got the skills they want without needing to see designs specific to their business first.
9 June 2007 at 10:22 am
In my many years in adland, these were a pain in the arse. In the end we put a price on submissions – enough to cover materials and effort. Some gov’t departments agreed to this. And the list of agencies presenting was never to be more than four. Agencies presenteed a credentials document first, so they could have a wild list, but narrow it down before a creative submission was asked for. Do we ever learn from history? Did you ask the DL, Miles?
14 September 2007 at 3:48 pm
Great post Miles. Have you heard of Blair Enns and Win Without Pitching? He’s got a Win Without Pitching Newsletter that rather interesting.
Here’s an article he wrote for AIGA – Spec Can Be Beaten
8 October 2007 at 12:31 am
great post. It took me a while to learn this. these are usually the clients that payment becomes a problem or is extremely late.
3 November 2007 at 2:18 pm
Great post, Miles. You and your readers might be interested in the Win Without Pitching manifesto: A Call to Arms – Twelve Proclamations of a Win Without Pitching agency. It can be done.
Thanks for the plug, Cat. 🙂
6 November 2007 at 11:02 pm
Well said. I ran across this over at NO!Spec and have to say that being a fairly new web developer that though I haven’t done anything for free, I have definitely undersold myself on projects which probably can hurt the local industry, by driving down prices, more than spec work. From here on out, never again.
15 April 2010 at 10:19 pm
I agree free pitching was rife .. the case build a website..Is there a solution, or are the clients just doomed to engage a bunch of firms until they find someone looking for some quick cash or who doesn’t care about developing long-term relationships?