As an agency offering creative concepts, we’re often asked to demonstrate our skills prior to appointment, or in other words, to free pitch. It’s always very flattering to be shortlisted in a pitch process, but the decision to embark on a project for free without any guarantee of any reward is a tough one.

We struggle to think of any other industry where it is seen as acceptable for the client to ask for work to be done to help them decide whether to commit to paying for it. Imagine asking for a sample meal from the three restaurants you’re considering booking for a Friday night meal out. The ingredients have to be paid for, the chef has to cook it and the restaurant owner has to pay for all their time and then deliver it to you. This is no different from asking an agency to free pitch.

At Antler, we have a general policy of no free pitches. Here’s why:

Strategy isn’t instant

At Antler, we’re always focused on the strategy. Although the creative design is part of our offering as a whole, the work we do is rarely limited to this discipline. It is just not possible to get under the skin of a project, a strategy, in a pitch process timescale; how should design be considered to support strategy to strike the right chord with the target marketing? If a development isn’t selling, why is that? What is it about the price, product, place or any other factor? How will the developer’s brand support every sale? There is a lot to consider.

In addition, the client is often unwilling to give too much time to an agency before an appointment, so you will never get the depth that might be necessary to do a really good job. Ideally, we like to talk with the stakeholders with the business to ensure we have a full understanding. It is impossible to build a full picture without their input. At the end of the day you have to ask yourself if they’re not willing to put in the time, why would we?

Quality time

When you’re paying for a high-quality product you would expect that it has been well considered, crafted, often agonised over to ensure its just right. A development brochure or website, for example, needs to encompass all of the key selling points on offer, catering for varying buyer types. Getting to grips with these details will make the project a success but the time must be taken to get it right. Why then would a good agency wish to be judged on something they have had to pull together often in short timescales and on a very limited budget? The time, care, and consideration that is given to a project is what you are paying for and this could never be represented in a free pitch process.

An investment on both sides – a partnership

We strongly believe in working with our clients to deliver the best possible outcomes. Those relationships are not built overnight and often that gem of information that makes all the difference appears later in the process. By working together we create better, more effective campaigns, built on the solid foundation of a workable strategy to sell more homes swiftly and at the best possible prices.

A portfolio should demonstrate capability

A good portfolio is so important to any agency. An agency working with housebuilders should be able to demonstrate how their input changed the outcome of a development for the better. They should be able to demonstrate how the brief was set, how they approached it and successes should be supported by a good testimonial. An agency should only really be judged on the whole process – how they work with you, what they brought to the table and of course, the outcome. Talk to their customers! That’s the only way to get a true picture.

Devil’s advocate

There are agencies who major on free pitching as a model to win work. They free pitch to win big projects and expect to win a percentage that justifies their outlay. Very few agencies could survive working to this model and those that do often rely on high-profile portfolios. In our sector, we believe that the long-term benefit of specialism and understanding the market will always outweigh any ‘out-there’ design concept!

There is also the argument that pitches are an opportunity for designers to stretch their creative muscles. However, if your designers are that short of things to do, you’re doing something wrong!

In summary, beware of asking agencies to free pitch. You will rarely get to see their best work and chances are, you could see the best agencies discounting themselves from your pitch process and end up hiring an agency with too much time on their hands.

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