Thursday, 13 November 2008

Why I Don’t Do Beauty Parades Anymore

My ‘virtual friend’ Michelle Goodman did a guest post at the New York Times Shifting Careers Blog, ‘When To Work For Free’. It got me thinking…

Michelle is certainly right that many of us who run small businesses or freelance are asked to do stuff for free. And sometimes, I have chosen to work pro bono, for example, for a ‘not for profit client’ but I try not to work for free where the client has a big budget! In the process of business development, we are often asked to come up with a bunch of ideas for a prospective client in order to ‘prove our credentials’ or we are expected to give a hint of a strategy as a teaser. And yes, that is inevitable but I have also got my fingers burnt. I have ‘given away’ too much insight and intellectual capital before a client commits (if they commit). I gave so much detail away in a proposal once to a client, I gave him all the insight for him to go off and do the project himself - he never hired me! We have done too much on proposals and pitches, where we are evaluated in a beauty parade alongside competitive pitches. And I try not to do that anymore.

It is accepted practice that creative agencies pitch against others to win client accounts. If you are shopping for creative services, a brand refresh or a new marketing strategy a client will ask to come up with a bunch of ideas for free. If you win the beauty parade they may hire you; if you don’t, who knows how your ideas may influence and inform a direction or strategy, with no reward? It’s a funny old practice, and I wonder why it still persists.

And yes, I’ve done it a few times to win high profile clients, I took that risk (and it worked, we won it). But I have also wasted man days in working up proposals; I’ve twisted the arms of talented designers asking them to create brand identities and creative treatments for work we may not win, or worse, where the client is ‘going through the motions’ of a pitch process but they knew who they would appoint from day #1. But no other industry works like this; you don’t ask prospective suppliers to actually do the bulk of the work, giving away their talents, before you appoint them. Of course, a proposal is a critical part of the sales process but you need to balance that with not giving away too much.

There are some exceptions. Pitches where you get paid for your work regardless of whether you win. Accounts where the reward is huge and the opportunity to be short-listed is like gold dust, but generally, especially at the grass roots end where small agencies do not have teams of people sitting around available, this practice risks exploitation.

So if you want to work with me or my business, sure let’s talk, let’s meet up but I won’t do loads of work up front - on spec- before we have agreed a relationship. Because you either want to work with me or you don’t!

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Good point well made. And how refreshing to see someone come out and say this.

I agree it's a real issue - particularly for small agencies, partnerships and sole traders.

Often it seems that the organisations putting work out to tender, and the individuals writing the brief do so with little consideration for the 'suppliers' and their situations.

You are to be applauded for taking the stand that you are. At the end of the day, this often just comes down to practicalities and working with people where there is mutual respect of the needs on both sides.