In the design world, a global phenomenon that is both publicly protested against and commonly practiced, is perhaps more widespread in this region than anywhere else. The Free Pitch.
Dubai feels the Pi(n)tch
A classic example is none other the capital of the World 2.0 - Dubai. The larger the company, the greater their demands for a free pitch. Private organizations (are there any really large non-government linked organizations in Dubai??) through to government departments have become used to the tender procurement process of a million bed sheets and pillow cases. Consequently, the creative industry is left to deal with this hangover and invited to pitch ideas for free.
Business Vs. Creative
In a timeless clash of business-minded thinkers (client representatives) versus the emotionally driven creative types (agencies), apparently the real separation drums down to one specific: Visual Thinking. Whilst clients apparently need the 'solution' from their creative counterparts at design agencies, they are most often just unable to 'think visually' especially when a typical pitch during a tender process involves 1) Credentials, 2) Past Work and, 3) Specific ideas of interest to the client. Traditionally, pictures speak louder than words and so it seems is the simple case of the Free Pitch. For a second, looking at it from the clients' shoes, why won't they invite ideas before signing the winning agency when they get to see in action, 3 sometimes 5 idea presentations? They know studios will bite, and the more the merrier.
I do not imply that designers are incapable of business acumen. Creativity in today's vastly shrinking specialization era, makes a critical difference to business. But it must be said, that typically designers are emotionally driven, and will run with their winning design concept. A pitch is afterall, not based on serious client interviews, through research, multiple analyses, the way a full-blooded project would be tackled.
The decisions on both sides on the line are emotional at this stage. Client and agency alike.
How many buyers truly have a scoring mechanism to award the project to the best candidate, rather than having other more overpowering factors become the barometer to commissioning the job - like price for example?
The Toll of Multiple Hats
As an investor in several creative agencies, I have felt there is always going to be a great amount of mental deliberation on the real merit of sidetracking 'paid clients' and active projects, whilst balancing the amount of time and resources spent on a 'whim.' And that, in reality, is what a pitch means in business terms. When we win, our books can account for the hours spent on conceptualizing and flag them as billed hours within the commissioned project. But what when one loses? The implications can be massive, especially for small boutique design shops.
Lets have the Final Design before we Start?
Dubai takes this to another level. In my own experience, I've noticed when you hand the client a string, it ends up becoming a rope.Agreeing to a pitch exercise is the only beginning. Once several design concepts have been presented, never more than two, the client reverts with an a positive response but a request to change imagery, add sections, tweak colors, change fonts and it gets one thinking: what exactly happens after the project has been commissioned? If the entire design is essentially 'finalized' before a contract has even been prepared, let alone signed!
Needless to say, clients have come to expect by default that an agency approached for a new project is willing, able and excited about the prospect of the pitch. Nobody in this region specifically is actively campaigning against or doing much to curb this practice. Having chatted with a string of my counterparts in other regional agencies and studios, it seems when the going gets tough, the tougher agencies need to get going too! When most large-scale projects are being commissioned using the free pitch method, it would no doubt make very little sense to remain a purist and expect to be judged on the basis of past work and strong credentials.
If a consortium of leading agencies across different sectors (say web, to begin with) start to make a point, sooner or later there will be a response. For example, in the UK, one finds several regulatory bodies as well as independent collaborative organizations have been in existence for many years now. Methods adopted have varied from setting strict parameters defining to what extent agencies will present their ideas, to other more bold steps that would not necessarily work in a dog eat dog market like Dubai.
It seems to me, that despite genuine efforts to discourage such behavior, the Free Pitch is here to stay.