Stop Profiting off an Agency’s Pitch. Here’s the Right Way to Appoint an Agency

September 10, 2021 - Reading Time: 3 minutes
Category: Opinion

In The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, Blair Enns spotlights a huge problem in the creative industry: Giving away work for free as part of “pitching”. He calls on agencies to amend their practices and to make a collective change that will rewrite the client-agency relationship.

While the book acts as a form of rallying cry for people in the creative industry, we think that clients also play a very important role in the revolution. If you’re guilty of asking creative professionals to provide free ideas as part of their pitch, we’d like to tap into Blair Enns’ book to help you understand why you really shouldn’t.

Let’s begin!

Would you ask a doctor for a free consultation to assess his capability?

As an agency, we’ve had our fair share of pitches. During most of them, we’ve been asked to provide social media posts that we had to create from scratch. We realised later that some parties had only been fishing for ideas without any real intent to hire us (i.e. pay us for our ideas). That doesn’t sound very fair, does it?

“The client’s challenge in determining the value of our services is the quality of an idea not yet delivered is difficult to measure.”

– Blair Enns (The Win Without Pitching Manifesto)

We get it: You want to determine if a creative agency will be a good fit for your brand. You want concrete proof that the agency can create work that suits your brand. That’s why you ask for submissions of completed work. Be that as it may, as Blair Enns points out in his book, doctors charge for consultations and accountants charge for audits. People in these professions don’t have to provide their services for free to prove their worth. So why is that expected of creative professionals?

So how do you go about assessing if an agency is the right fit for you?

Past work speaks volumes

Instead of asking agencies to part with their ideas for free, ask to view their past work. Every agency has a portfolio. Ask them to talk you through their strategies. If an agency can produce high-quality work for others, it’s safe to say that it can do the same for you.

Some of you may get a little worried when you don’t see your industry being reflected in an agency’s clientele. There are hundreds of different industries in existence. Realistically speaking, it is impossible for an agency to have worked with at least one company in every industry. Instead of focusing on industries, focus on the creative aspects. After all, that’s what you’re hiring the agency for. Share your goals and ask the agency how it can help you. By having honest conversations and perusing its portfolio, you can get a good gauge of an agency’s capabilities.

An agency’s culture matters more than you think

An oft-overlooked factor that you should consider when deciding whether to work with an agency is its culture. Culture is incredibly important because it informs how the agency works and, ultimately, the quality of the end product. An agency with a habit of biting off more than it can chew will have overstretched resources and is more likely to produce subpar work. On the other hand, an agency that has ‘quality over quantity’ ingrained in its ethos will naturally want to create work it can be proud of. There are also agencies that just do as they’re told without contributing new ideas and perspectives, much to the frustration of their clients. Size doesn’t matter in this regard. A small agency with a good work ethic will always put out better work than a big agency with a half-hearted attitude.

We highly recommend giving The Win Without Pitching Manifesto a read, whether you are a creative or a client. It will not only help you understand why some agencies work the way they do but also provide you with insights into building a more long-lasting, and beneficial relationship with your agency. Like any relationship, the client-agency relationship has to be built on mutual respect and trust. It is safe to say that a relationship like that doesn’t begin with one side made to give their work away for free.


Masthead photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash


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