I’m a Creative, not an Investment Banker!

18 Aug

Occasionally I’m asked to jump in on speculative pitches for work. Often these are based around design – a number of different concepts are worked up and presented to a prospective client, along with a spiel on how and why the concepts were created.

These types of pitches seem to be par for the course working in creative services, but they have never sat easily with me.  Years ago I was negotiating a PR contract with a potential client.  They were happy with our credentials, impressed with our client list and confident that we were the right company for them,  then they asked if we’d work for free for a month before signing contracts – just to prove ourselves.

We said no. Apart from anything else, a month is nowhere near long enough to prove yourself as a PR incumbent, and offering discounts and incentives wasn’t our style.  That attitude has stayed with me.  If someone wants your expertise, knowledge and creativity, is it too much to expect that they should pay for it?  In a business environment I cannot afford to spend hour upon hour dedicating time to pitching for business, especially when the suspicion is always there that someone will take what you’ve done and turn it over to the cheapest option to make a mess of.

Anyone working in creative services will know that it takes a fair amount of time to put together pitches like this – and most of us simply can’t afford to spend time working on something without knowing that there’s a purchase order number with our name on it somewhere.  I’d go further to say that I don’t think they benefit anyone and in fact devalue your core offering.

Digressing for a moment, I’m in the midst of building a new home office.  It’s been quite a long process, but we’re nearly there now.  We’ve done some work ourselves and project managed the rest, sourcing craftsmen to do specific jobs.  My criteria for instructing someone goes a bit like this:-

  1. Do they come recommended?
  2. If not, can they offer testimonials?
  3. Do I feel comfortable having this person in my home environment?
  4. Do they seem keen to do the job?
  5. What is their availability?
  6. How much are they going to charge me?

Honestly if someone steps through my door and I don’t like them, I’m not going to give them the work – intuition is there for a reason and I like to work with people I like.

All of this can be transferred to the creative environment. If you’re looking for a designer or a marketeer or a copywriter, or anything, you’re bound to ask around first, to find out who’s out there and who’s rated by your peers.  Then you do a bit of snooping, you check them out and find out what you can about them, see if anyone’s had any bad experiences.  After that you might have a chat and set up a meeting – not unlike a tentative first date, where you gauge whether there’s any mutual attraction.

Trust and communication are at the core of every creative partnership.  A transparent relationship is essential, especially in PR.  You need to be honest about your ambitions and have the confidence to express them, knowing that your partner will support you and do everything they can to help you get there.

So why are speculative pitches counter-productive? Well, because you’re cutting out the whole courtship dance.  You don’t know each other.  As a service provider you have no idea of what the client really needs, no insight into their business, or their vision.  As a client you’re not seeing the creative at their best – you’re seeing a sanitised version. Frankly you’d be better off asking them to bring their portfolio and talking through what they’ve done before, listening to them describe the relationships they have with existing clients, what they think works for them, and why. To expect them to attempt to design or strategise for your business without insight is largely a complete waste of time.

So why do it at all? There’s an argument that it makes a prospective client feel good – getting something for nothing.  Creatives argue that leaving something tangible behind means that you’re more likely to get a call back.  I don’t buy any of it. We all know that there’s no such thing as a free lunch – somehow the mortgage still has to be paid, so if you’re speculating now, you’ll be cutting back later in the month – that means other clients will feel the pinch.

If you’re good at what you do, you’ll put more value on your skills by holding back – put the time that you would spend speculatively pitching into improving your collateral.  Make sure that your website, your blog, your social media presence and any printed collateral you have is top notch.  Work on your own marketing and improve your profile that way.  Have confidence in yourself and deliver value to your existing clients – they are the here and now, don’t take them for granted!

If you’re looking for a creative partner, consider why you’d even ask them to pitch on a speculative basis.  What are you gaining? Perhaps what you need is a professional to guide you through the entire process, or just some more time spent investigating what’s out there. Consider your own business and how important it is to get things right for your clients.  Creatives feel the same way, there’s nothing more frustrating than completing a job and feeling that you could have done better if you’d known more – give them the opportunity to do the best for you!


7 Responses to “I’m a Creative, not an Investment Banker!”

  1. Jane August 18, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    Its important to stick to your guns and not waiver in your standards or work ethics. I think you are so right

  2. jfb57 August 19, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    Very interesting post that has made me think! Good timing for me given my present project! Thanks P!

  3. Vegemitevix August 19, 2010 at 10:16 am #

    I absolutely agree Paula, but would like to add a few things from the supplier’s perspective. One of the hardest things for small marketing/creative professional firms is working alongside the client who truly doesn’t know what they want. I’ve seen this time and again, when clients come to you and want to engage you to carry out some work on their behalf yet have no idea what is involved in the process. The creative ends up spending umpteen hours trying to mind-read and come up with something that the client immediately hates, and subsequently closes down the project. Or they move ahead with work only to decide at the last minute that the client’s postman or their friend has decided the image is too blue, the words are wrong or the format is icky. Why have a dog and bark yourself? It’s a two way street when a client engages a professional they need to be aware that there’s more to their part of the bargain than simply paying the fee. They need to come to the table prepared with all of the information the supplier requires to move the project along. They need to clearly express their desires and be frank and constructive about offering feedback. Otherwise the working relationship, simply does not work.

    • Mikey B November 10, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

      It was the headline that caught my eye. To be honest, all the investment bankers I know would agree with you. Just sharing the thought.

  4. Paul Butler (@psjbutler) October 21, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    Hello Paula, came through my Informal Networking Group on LinkedIn and then your profile. Good subject and some very valid points raised.

    If fact, so much so I wrote a piece on the 5 dos to enhance the relationship between client and agency – http://blog.theblackandwhiteagency.com/?p=137 , mainly because of the frustrations I’ve seen here at B&W, as well as at other agencies I’ve also worked at.

    I’ve have even been known to mention to a new client, up front, that we have fallen foul of potential clients just opening their doors to agencies for fresh ideas that their own internal resources can use and manage themselves. The magic word – “Trust”…


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