Clients want to know that an agency will do what it says on the tin: that it is thoughtfully creative. It is all too easy to presume that a few loose mock-ups will be sufficient proof of this. Don’t be fooled: creative work at the proposal stage will be largely uninformed. The client’s brief is often the product of an initial discussion that recognises the need for change, without having established the precise details. As Blair Enns argues, “creative should always be focused and measured against the strategy”. Blindly grappling with loose ideas is ultimately futile. An exemplary piece of work understands, digests and answers a question.
Think of a doctor, a psychologist, or an optician: any expert in their field will diagnose before prescribing. This diagnosis will involve measurable tests. In the same way, the creative process uncovers a condition and prescribes a solution. Any good piece of design is supported by a strategic framework; it is founded on quantitative and qualitative research. A glossy mockup may be aesthetically-pleasing, but really it’s an unhelpful diversion from the core problem. If it cannot be substantiated, it is ultimately flimsy and shallow.
Clients understand that an agency’s fees will include overheads. What they don’t sign up to is a chunk of their money being spent on new business or covering the salaries of an entire pitch team. This system is clearly unfair on clients who have paid good, honest money for a project. What’s more, creative at the pitch stage undervalues the product. If a placebo can be produced in a couple of days, how can the agency then justify the costs of the real deal? Producing creative for a pitch disregards the careful planning and strategic thinking behind every sustainable brand.
Compare pitching to gambling. Both are illicit behaviours that override calm, rational thought. The lure of winning lucrative new business is an obsessive attraction; resisting temptation becomes a daily battle. Pitching encourages a hedonistic disregard for everything else. What’s more, ulterior motives are rife in the tendering process. The project could be a complete fabrication – a chance for your prospect’s junior staff to impress their seniors and glean insights for free. With these factors in mind, focusing your efforts on creative at this stage is an unnecessary (and expensive) risk.
Producing creative for a potential project is exciting: it plays to the somewhat egotistical, competitive nature that pervades the industry. However, this attitude runs the risk of diluting – and neglecting – client work. It’s all too easy to get passionate about what’s on the horizon and become lax towards what you already have. Long-term agency health is built on referrals, and the quality of client work should never be compromised. Rather than repeatedly sinking free creative into chance pitches, Firedog channels its energy into self-promotion and thought leadership. This approach is beneficial for both parties. Designers are always creatively stimulated; clients are reassured that their agency is onto the latest trends.
Make no mistake, pitching can be fun. The late-night spirit of coffee-fuelled camaraderie produces a focused, collaborative energy. But in the morning, when all is said and done, the energy of the moment is replaced by the sobriety of cash flow, performance and the realities of running a business like everyone else. The fleeting, indulgent moment now feels irresponsible and unhealthy.