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Stop Devaluing Creative by Giving It Away for Free


Truant's Linn Frost on the benefits of removing creative from the pitch process

Stop Devaluing Creative by Giving It Away for Free

Creative ideas are valuable. 

They are the cornerstone of our business.

They are the most labour-intensive part of our process.

They are responsible for our biggest delivery costs. 

They are our most precious asset. 

They are our raison d’être. 

So why the hell do we give keep giving them away for free in pitches? 

After joining Pitch Perfect – a recent industry event about how to nail new biz pitching – this issue has been very much top of mind. And it’s got me thinking that we need to radically restructure the pitch process by taking creative out of the equation. 

Pitching is arduous, expensive and risky. With the average pitch costing £170,000, it’s the biggest gamble an agency can take. But losing £170,000 isn’t the only risk. Having ideas appropriated is another very real concern. Many agencies have had their ideas used by prospective clients, despite not being awarded the business. But very few attempt to sue. 

So we need better creative safeguarding. To me, this means building an industry-wide agreement to stop including creative ideas in pitches and instead put more emphasis on existing creative credentials, team chemistry, strategic approach and demonstrating a thorough understanding of the brief. 

Sure, clients get excited about seeing ‘creative ideas’. But, from personal experience, it’s extremely rare that the pitched idea survives unscathed once the business has been appointed. So why offer up creative at such an embryonic stage when we could place more emphasis on nailing the strategy and brewing great chemistry? If we’re bold enough to take this step, not only would we prevent our very essence of creativity becoming devalued in the buyer’s eye, we’d also stop harming ourselves financially. 

With procurement departments looming over clients, it’s understandable that they want full control of the pitch process. If I were investing a large proportion of my business’ budget into a partner relationship, I’d like total control over the selection process too. But giving the client control shouldn’t entail presenting the final product before they’ve committed to buying. I can’t imagine that any other industry gives away its end product without any commission or payment. Imagine asking an architect to build part of your new extension, just as a test? When a client wants proof of the pudding, they should pay for it. Fairly. 

Although it may not be clients’ preferred route, if agencies could unite in agreeing to cut creative from the pitch process, we’d all be in a better place. Creative is the most labour-intensive part of the pitching game. So removing it means agencies could reclaim significant amounts of time and money; time and money that’s better spent on servicing existing clients – the ones who are playing the game the fairly. 

Even more saliently, removing creative from pitches gives both parties better clarity when it comes to proving the ownership of an idea, which – as BrewDog and Manifest discovered earlier this year – can be a messy business. Ideation is the hardest thing to protect, even when a robust NDA is in place. 

The benefits of removing creative from the pitch process are manifold: We would have a sure-fire way of protecting our IP. We would avoid weeks of unpaid work, so freeing up time to better serve existing clients. We would be better able to protect our bottom lines, something that’s particularly pertinent during our current existential crisis. Moreover, there would be less waste: if the strategy isn’t right upfront, we risk producing yet more precious creative ideas that never see the light of day. 

Removing creative from pitches could also remove a sticky client problem: the perennial issue of whether they should pay for pitches. It would also leave us better placed to build relationships based on trust, chemistry and clear rules of engagement: the foundations we need to bring creativity to the fore.

Linn Frost is client partner at advertising, media and music agency, Truant 

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Truant London, Mon, 25 Nov 2019 11:03:32 GMT