Thomas Wilder wrote a great, very well-argued post on IDSGN a few
days weeks ago about how he believes that crowdsourcing, spec work and pitching are sabotaging the value of design and are bad for the profesion. Of course, it sparked a lot of discussion on twitter, getting re-tweeted by Jason Santamaria, the AIGA and other well-respected industry leaders.
I say AGAIN, because I think there’s a bigger picture that the design community is missing in the general discussion about spec work. What generally dominates the discussion is the crowdsourcing part – sites that have built their entire business model on getting inexperienced designers to compete for prizes get bashed over and over by us professionals, while the more important topic is mentioned in just a passing sentence or two. The dirty secret of our industry is that its built on free pitching.
I took part in and helped organize a Motion Design Roundtable recently at F5. We invited a handful of industry veterans to meet and discuss issues in our field; motion design. The germ of an idea behind the talk was to create a Code of Standards for our industry – where so much is done on handshakes and gentlemens’ agreements. We had a lot of great discussion over two short days and left with the idea of creating a professional group of motion graphic artists – and we’re working on fleshing out that idea now.
The thing that got me depressed towards the end of our conversations, was when we steered into the topic of pitching. Mind you, this was a group of industry veterans, including shop owners, former owners, veteran freelancers and executive producers. But the consensus seemed to be that there was NOTHING we could do about it. It was the way the world worked. And if you wanted cool jobs, you had to chase them and prove yourself to the clients. Left me totally bummed. I’m excited about the prospects of a professional group for our industry, but I’m not sure you can have a Code of Standards that doesn’t preclude you selling out the other guy. Can you?
After I read Thomas WIlder’s article I put up a quick survey called the Pitch Questionnaire to find out what Motion Designers think about pitching and how much of it they do. Here are the depressing results: 45% of ALL the jobs we do in Motion Design are pitches, 79% of those are unpaid and on average each pitch costs about $8K to produce. That’s money the studio or shop sinks into the pitch. The range for costs went from $0 all the way up to $120K – so imagine being the poor shop that spent that and didn’t win – that’s a lot more than most of our annual salaries! And it wouldn’t be hard spending that kind of money. Hire a handful of freelance designers for a week, add up your internal costs, a CD, the EP’s time, the producers, your Art Director, you might have to produce a motion test on top of all the boards so you might need to throw an animation and 3D team on it as well. It’ll get expensive pretty quickly. It’s no wonder these agencies don’t want to pay for it.
But they should pay. Shouldn’t they? I mean we rail against crowdsourcing and spec work. We all share stuff like Mike Monteiro’s “F*ck You. Pay Me.” talk and The Vendor Client Relationship In the Real World on twitter and facebook. So when push comes to shove why are we all doing so much uncompensated creative pitching? 45% of ALL our jobs?
And for some reason, 66% of us still think those pitches are worthwhile. Only 10% are wholeheartedly against pitching.
What is usually done in the Motion Design world are called creative pitches. Different studios are asked by the agency to provide new original treatments, storyboards, styleframes, etc. for the agency’s script or concept and then the job is awarded based on that speculative work. For some design studios this is just the cost of doing business, and they may judge the opportunity for the work to be great enough to invest in the work needed to get the job. But for many others, especially smaller studios or independent artists doing this kind of pitch as a requirement for every job is unsustainable. And the pressure to pitch for every job is constantly building. It’s not just used for spots, but also endtags. It’s not just 3 companies, it’s 7, or 9, or 20. And the workload for each pitch is getting bigger. One commenter on the Pitch Questionnaire wrote this: “Sometimes development work during the pitch phase is helpful in conveying the vision, especially for work that is difficult to visualize. Though I think more often than not a director’s treatment, with supporting rough visual aids (swipe, rough concept art or character sketches) should suffice. If an agency or client needs “finished work” (ie fully realized style frames or motion tests) to judge the efficacy of an idea, they should pay for it. I think clients, agencies and production companies share the blame for the loss of this distinction.”
RIght now all the leverage is with agencies who control the jobs, they ask for spec creative pitches, and the Motion Design studios comply. Some may say no to specific pitches, but others will undoubtedly take a chance on it. It is how it works right now. But it shouldn’t be.
The second reason I think spec pitching shouldn’t be done is that it inflates costs across the board. If almost half of jobs are being done at a cost to the studio – aren’t the other half supporting that unpaid work? One commenter on the Pitch Questionnaire admitted as much: “We win most of our pitches and build the cost into our production work. We rarely pitch at work that we don’t think is a realistic (75%+ chance) win.”
There’s a different way to do a pitch than the standard way its now done in Motion Graphics. It’s called a credentials pitch and the best definition I have found is from the Design Business Association in the UK. This is from the document on their site called #5. Pitch Guide. You can find it here.
Creative versus Credential pitc
A creative pitch is where you ask a designer to present some ideas at the meeting (i.e. they have to do some creative work prior to seeing you) against a designer who will be very happy to meet with you to show you their portfolio, which is referred to as a credentials pitch. If you need run a creative pitch then you should expect to pay for it, after all they are working on your behalf. This can be done by setting a minimum fee that you are willing to pay and asking the designers to work to it.
If you are setting a creative pitch you will need to be very clear what it is that you are asking them to do. Different approaches and different ideas presented will make the final selection harder as there are likely to be bits in all the presentations you like.
Credentials pitches on the other hand still require the designer to think before the meeting but this thinking should be about you and your business needs not how the challenge can be resolved at the first meeting. Designers will have a portfolio of projects, which they will regularly present to potential clients to get work. The key here is that they will have selected projects or case studies that will be similar to the challenge facing your business to demonstrate their suitability for the task ahead.
The creative pitch is mostly used where you have both the budget and a clear idea of what you need. The credentials pitch is used mostly where you are looking for a designer to work with but where the brief is more open and you feel you would like to explore with one designer ideas going forward. By reviewing portfolios and meeting the designer you are selecting the designer you feel you would be most comfortable working with in this way.
In fact, just yesterday I read an article at AdAge by Rupal Parekh about a conference of ad agencies and marketers, talking to their clients (brands) in which one head of an agency actually gave some good advice – advice he and his colleagues should heed themselves as they deal with their “vendors” – the motion graphic design studios, visual effects facilities and artists who create work for them – and don’t necessarily have an account that lasts for multiple jobs or is only up for review every year or so.
Paul Lavoie, co-founder at chairman at Taxi: Nurture the Relationship, Get Rid of Spec Work in Pitches.
Successful business relationships aren’t so different from successful personal relationships, said Mr. Lavoie. Not enough clients are bringing genuine enthusiasm to the table, and it shows in the end product. There needs to be a stepped-up sense of decision-making authority in the marketing suite. He also asked the audience to consider changing the pitch process to make it credentials-based only, and to hire agencies based on their experiences, as one might an accountant or a lawyer. The presentation of spec creative wastes time and money that can be channeled elsewhere. “If we put all that energy and intelligence towards something bigger, we could really solve some problems,” he said.
I agree with that. Do you?