Why we don’t work for free

It’s often we are approached to participate in pitches both paid and unpaid. In our industry, this, unfortunately, is a common practice.

We respectfully decline unpaid and nominally-paid pitches and this is why.

Some call it ‘free pitching’ whilst others accept it as a standard way of doing business in the creative services industry. We like to call it ‘working for free’ and this article explains why our business chooses not to do it.

The practice of free pitching is fuelled by organisations seeking to receive a range of strategic marketing, communications and design/creative ideas from a range of consultancies during a courting process known as ‘the pitch’.

Sometimes referred to as ‘indicative ideas’ or ‘creative ideas’, the request appears in a brief and forms a key part of the selection criteria for respondents.

These ideas can amount to weeks of unpaid work for the consultancy taking part in the pitch; not to mention the intellectual property issues that play out in this unregulated scene. The practice of free pitching is further validated when creative agencies/consultancies willingly give their work away for free, under the promise of potentially fruitful future work from these potential clients.

This is to the detriment of the work, as the process itself allows little time for immersion, understanding, empathy and insight.

It also places the consultant in a position where it is conducting core business without pay.

It is not the purpose of this article to explain the various sides of the free pitching debate — these can be easily found with a search engine. This article is also not meant to take the moral high ground — we admit freely that we have (regrettably) taken part in free pitches in the past for various reasons and with a wide range of clients from state government bodies to organisations involved in education, utilities and the arts. We’ve learnt from these experiences and as part of our own business strategy moving forward, we’ve chosen to not take part in any requests for proposals, tenders or pitches where we are asked to work without pay.

Outlined below are the reasons why our business has chosen to respectfully decline these invitations:

1. We believe in mutual respect and healthy, professional and collaborative relationships.

We believe that a mutually respectful client-agency relationship doesn’t begin with one party requesting free work from the other.

We are immensely proud of our client relationships, some stretch back over decades.

Our work is collaborative, immersive and creative — none of which can occur when one party is observing the other passively and without input, while the other is working without a value placed on their time, expertise and output.

Our clients respect what we bring to the table.

Our team work with boards, committees, councils, diverse ranges of stakeholder groups and communities around Australia to carry out the work they do — from research, to strategy to design. Without a mutual respect for the people we work with, what do we have left?

When we are asked to work without payment, there is an immediate imbalance in the relationship; a building without the foundations.

2. Our expertise is evident in the work we’ve done and it has a fair and reasonable value.

Collectively we have years experience working with some of Australia’s leading brands. We have solved complex organisational challenges and we’ve united large teams of people through our work.

We’re proud of the work we’ve done and so are our clients.

The proof is in the pudding.

3. Our focus as a responsible business is to balance purpose with profit.

As a for-profit business, we don’t accept nominal fees that won’t cover the cost of doing the work.

If you would like us to do some work for you, and expect to have us engage in an unpaid pitch, or paid by a nominal fee that won’t cover the cost of doing the work, we respectfully decline in advance.

If you are a creative consultancy who also doesn’t believe in working for free, we extend an invitation to you, to take this article and publish it on your own website.

Make it your own and draw a line in the sand.

This article was first published to the private email list, Hello Tomorrow.