Reader Response to “Paying for Creative Pitches”

It’s 12:25 AM.

After a fully packed day of meetings and presentations, I’m finally settling in for the evening. If you’re a regular reader/subscriber, you already know that yesterday’s post took a look at pitch fee compensation in the US & Europe. Just 24 hours, and over 2 dozen emails later, I get the sense that many of you have something constructive to say on this issue- a genuine desire to contribute to the conversation. Most of the emails were from the agency-side of the business, however I did get a handful of client-side opinions that were thoughtful and enlightening, especially against the backdrop of new economic pressures felt across the channel-sphere. In the spirit of “real talk”, I thought I might share one such letter that came from Greg Duncan, who many of you may remember from NY-based Verb. Please note that his perspective is provided unedited (as it should be) and published with his consent (I’ll always ask before putting your name in lights).

Response to “New Survey: European Clients More Likely to Pay for Pitches”
By Greg Duncan


I’m really enjoying your blog. Our industry suffers from a profound lack of communication (and industry standards) about these topics; BDA suffers from being both client- and vendor-focused at the same time and blogs like Motionographer seem to simply showcase the latest new trick from the latest new design stars.

The pitch fee compensation article is fascinating. I can’t believe that half of the respondents said they never receive compensation for pitches. At Verb, we were paid for probably 80% of pitches, and we stopped doing free pitches for the last couple of years. Often, clients would say that they had no money for the pitch, and we’d just hold firm to $2500 – $5000 (occasionally $1K for something tiny). I would estimate that half the time the clients would come back to us with money.

I’m sure the economy has something to do with hungrier firms doing something for nothing, but I would also speculate that most of these new firms aren’t based around mature business experience, and just assume that free pitches are the standard, which I guess they are quickly becoming as more clients get used to design firms not pushing back. Over time, I really started to resent clients for this practice. I truly believe that free pitching doesn’t serve anybody, not even clients who think they’re getting a bargain or would prefer to “put their dollars on the screen.” If a client can just cast out a net without taking any risk, it means they don’t have to do the hard work of creating a meaningful RFP, which means that design firms are often engaged in style wars or pissing contests. Once the project is awarded, the design team’s energy and enthusiasm often falters from having spent the last week staying up all night, especially if the client comes back and says something like, “we loved your pitch, congrats…the project has changed somewhat…” I would say this happened to us (and even happens to me as a freelancer) about half the time. I think this is a crappy design process.

I actually thought that the way HBO handled pitches worked very well. For any medium to large project, they would do a non-competitive pitch and often let us dictate the schedule. Maybe this wouldn’t work for everyone, but I think our creative really thrived when we were working on self-imposed deadlines and didn’t feel like we were scrambling to compete with 2-4 other firms for the same business.

I heard a lecture a few years back on the pitch process and it fundamentally changed how we did business. The basics, from memory, were:

1 Keep your cool (don’t be willing to do anything just because ABC called).
2 Do your research and ask as many questions as you can possibly think of.
3 Find out who is on their team, and who will be in the room for the pitch.
4 Find out who the decision-makers are.
5 Ask how many other companies are included in the pitch.
6 Ask who the other companies are (which they don’t have to answer, but if they do, it gives you a huge amount of information about what they’re looking for, e.g., three very similar companies vs. three very different companies).
7 Found out what the expectation is for the pitch: written concepts, boards, motion/animatics, music, talent, etc.
8 Ask if there’s a pitch fee.
9 If there’s not a pitch fee, ask for one that you think is fair.
10) Hang up and discuss whether or not the project is a good fit.

Most of these seem so obvious now that it feels silly to write them out, but as a young company, we would get so excited when new clients called, we’d say yes, ask almost nothing and just start working, and then realize with two days left before the presentation, we were working in a vacuum, for free, with no idea who we were pitching to, and with no sense of the odds of actually winning the pitch. Finally, I really like that you mention actual cost numbers in your post. It would be fantastic to have a project rate/freelancer rate/salary survey for our industry (like AIGA does) to help shore up our rapidly-eroding business model. So with that, I look to you to be our leader and define the industry standards… 🙂


Veteran Creative Director Greg Duncan has led brand assignments for clients including HBO, Cinemax, The Colbert Report and The Daily Show and was previously founder of New York based creative agency Verb. He now resides in Los Angeles.

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Filed under opinion

3 responses to “Reader Response to “Paying for Creative Pitches”

  1. K. Blanks


    I really admire your honesty, experience, and perspective on this issue. That list of 10 you recalled “off the top of your head” has already been printed and put up in our offices (we are a UK-based shop). Although many of those items might seem “simple”, reinforcing them can not only help our internal processes, but also the level of responsiveness we provide to our clients.

    As for what you said about Motionographer, I couldn’t agree more. I’m not entirely sure how much work it takes to keep this site going, but I certainly can appreciate the absolute refreshing perspective it gives our industry.

  2. Pingback: New Survey: European Clients More Likely to Pay for Pitches « Art & Business of Motion

  3. Pingback: Gmake » Art & Business of Motion

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