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Pitching rears its head once again

I’ve had this post in my head for a few months now, but with the busy day to day, a studio move (did you know we have moved?) and life, it has taken me a while to get it down. Hope you like. Read on to find out more.

After seeing this post on LinkedIn recently, I felt it was suitable to finally put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard and share my latest thoughts on this.

Pitching is a subject which I have commented on before and is always a hot topic within the creative industries. Whilst we at Cargo have never taken a hard ‘we won’t free pitch’ stance, we have always approached with caution. I do remember when we started out doing some sort of upfront work for many of our ‘larger’ projects. My take was – and sometimes still is – you have to give something, in order to get something.

Indeed, some of our staff cut their teeth at agencies where pitch work was the norm – working late under pressure to roll out several ranges of creative concepts for a pitch they may or may not win. The mentality being one of ‘if we go for 5 and get 2, costs will be covered’.

From a business stance if it is feasible to have several junior staff (or students) being paid pennies – if at all – churning out concepts on pitches that you may or may not win, then the numbers stack up.

We did, however, encounter several experiences last year, all with their own intricacies but one which reflected the post above….

A bad experience.

We were invited by a client in Yorkshire (about a two-hour drive) to discuss a project last August. They sent a detailed brief for an interesting e-commerce project that needed a number of integrations to internal systems. A really good prospect, an initial meeting was arranged. Myself and one other member of staff travelled down with a presentation about Cargo, our experience and clients, and some background detail based on the information we had been given. We arrived to be greeted by seven senior members of staff. “This is obviously a major project,” I thought to myself. The two-hour meeting went well, and at the end, I learned that they were seeing seven agencies.

Seven senior members of staff, sitting through seven two hour agency introductory presentations.

We returned home – two members of staff out of the office for a day. Plus the time prepping for the meeting, at around a day. Time went by, and we eventually heard back in October that we would be invited back to present fees, along with creative for the project – ‘an idea of the what the website may look like’. A date was set for November. We had a decision to make.

As a team, we took a step back and decided to go for it. It was a great opportunity, and at the time we did have some time within the studio to spend on it. So, our design team set about pulling creative together – pointless just doing a homepage design, we had to take the opportunity to showcase what we can do as an agency, and the fact that such a project involved much more than just a well design website. We had to consider brand, offline promotion, social, content and search. The presentation was huge. And A LOT of time was spent on it – during the working day and outside of hours. Our dev team looked at the integrations, speaking with the client’s IT guys to work out a roll-out plan.

We headed back at the end of November – three members of staff this time, ensuring we had representatives from across our team, giving the client access to our expertise so they could see we were the right team for the job.

Another four-hour drive (two there, two back). Another two-hour meeting with the same seven members of staff. Another day out the studio for three members of our team. We also learned that they had whittled their initial seven agencies down to three.

Seven members of staff, for another three agency pitches. How much internal resource has been spent to get to this stage? Surely there is a better way?

What followed was the news that we were actually down to the last two. We then took part in several further phone calls – mainly discussing the integration element of the project with their IT department. Yes, we had already started doing the work. We’d fallen into the trap. We were told there was a meeting just before Christmas when a decision would be made. This meeting was postponed until mid-January. I then hear at the end of January that the contact that we had been in touch with for six months was leaving the business at the start of February.

Despite several attempts to regain contact, the case has gone cold.

Cue reflection. Pints in the pub with the team. Disappointment. And we hadn’t even lost.

We won’t do this again.

As I write, there is no new site. 11 months since first contact. No news on progress. No thanks-but-no-thanks.

A good experience.

Fast forward to May and I had a meeting as recently as last week where we were invited to quote on a project. Brief came in via email, I spoke with the contact and asked what was expected as part of the process, and what the budget was. ‘It would be nice to see what the site would look like’, was the response (that old chestnut).

The budget was OK – but not of a value which warranted a tonne of pitch work. We weren’t going there again. I attended the meeting and spent around a day pulling together a presentation, tailoring a slide deck suitable to the project showing our understanding, and examples of previous work and a detailed case study of a previous project outlining our process and the outcome.

No creative was included.

The presentation went really well, though we are yet to hear if we have been successful. As it happens the contact I spoke to wasn’t actually in the meeting, but I did directly address the lack of pitch concepts in my presentation.

‘We wouldn’t have expected to see a range of ideas, we really enjoyed your presentation’, was the response. Brilliant. A client who understands this sometimes nonsensical approach to creative procurement. It’s good to know these clients exist – other agencies I’m glad to say have had similarly positive experiences.

In summary.

Ultimately my take is this;

Cargo is a small agency. We are under no illusion of grandeur, and we will never pretend we are bigger than we actually are in order to win work. We deliver.

We care about our staff, and understand the notion of working on a pitch – essentially making stuff up as you haven’t yet had the chance to meet and understand the client or their objectives fully – can be soul destroying, knowing your work may never see the light of day. Especially if you are having to do this under pressure to hit deadlines, late at nights or weekends and missing the all-important balance.

Equally as important are our clients…the clients that are paying for our services, our time and our expertise. The clients that we build relationships with.

As I explained in the meeting above – “we would really like to work on this project with you, the reason we don’t free pitch is two-fold. We don’t like our staff to have to work extra hours on something we hope to win, but at the same time, we won’t push paying clients’ work to one side in order to do free work on a potential project. We hope to welcome you as a paying client, and you will then be given the same time and expertise”.

We will not risk the relationships of our trusted clients on the hope of a new account – one which may well already be in the bag elsewhere, and we are only in there to make up the numbers to satisfy a ‘fair’ procurement process, and are supplying free ideas which may be used by others. Yes, this is another element we have experienced, but that’s for another post, at another time.

And so we await the outcome of this one. Watch this space.