Please Just Stop Doing And Asking For Free Work. Please.

I shouldn’t have to start this by explaining that actual adjectives for the word “professional” are “paid” and “salaried”. If you’re selling yourself as a professional, don’t negate your title by completing work for free. And if you’re searching for a PROFESSIONAL to complete creative work for you, you shouldn’t have to be asked to pay for time spent. You either need them or you don’t If you need them, you need to pay for them.  If you don’t. well duh. I’m sure that most, if not all, who are reading this have experienced both ends of the “pitch on risk” scale – either the evil dangling-the-carrot-of-payment incentive, or the hungry-arse-chasing-good-exposure motivator. Regardless of which end of the scale you’re riding right now, it needs to stop, and I’ll explain why.

A report conducted in 2018, called the “What Clients Think 2018” report, lists statistics from both client and creative perspectives. In this report, it was found that most clients see design as important, but won’t pay for a pitch. Showing that 99% of clients see pitching as a matter of “straight forward due diligence”.  My thought on this is that, as long as people are doing it for free, its value has been denied and it will be expected to be done for free. The less it is valued, the less it is valued. Like teaching in South Africa, or plastic shopping bags, or integrity.

I often hear creatives talking about collaborating and forming partnerships with their clients; them about the power and value of design and creative. The moment you agree to pitch on risk you are teaching your client that exact opposite of what you think you are. In doing so, you fail the client and yourself.  By engaging in the free pitch, you are failing to give value to the client’s needs and work, as much as you are lessening the value of your own contribution to bringing their value to market.

To be fair, I know how creative clients can be in milking you (making you wonder why they need to hire a creative agency at all). There’s this idea of being able to “try it on” before having to buy it, but creative is not the same as mass-produced clothing. Whether they promise exposure or the opportunity to ‘win’ a project – you’re still diverting time, effort, talent, money and resources from work that actually pays into something that is a little closer to a wing and a prayer. Stay strong. Make them pay.


pitching on risk is bad for the creative industry:

  • It depreciates creative work (by giving it away for free).
  • The creative industry as a whole is devalued, by implying creative is less valuable than others.
  • Unless (and sometimes even if) a contract is signed, a client can simply appropriate any idea and get it executed more cheaply in-house or through a freelancer.
  • What other professional works for free? Does your doctor? Your Uber driver? I didn’t think so. Fuck you, pay me.

Any agency can dazzle a client in pitch, but chemistry and a proven track record are much better long-term measures of capabilities. Life’s a pitch, but maybe it doesn’t have to be? If in doubt, refer to this chart by Jessica Hische to see if you should pitch your work for free (no, probably). 

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