Graphic Design Pricing – Free Pitching and the Public Sector



In my day job I run one of the country's myriad of graphic design companies – I'd like to think that we're 'small but beautifully formed', employing six people including myself and enjoying the patronage of a variety of customers, big and small , across a range of business sectors.

One of the imponderables of running graphic design agencies concerns graphic design pricing – after all, how much is creative talent worth? Of course if you are fortunately enough to be a Saatchi & Saatchi or Ogilvy & Mather of the world you can more or less name your own price, there being an almost inherent snob value of being able to say that "one has Saatchi's as one's agency "He said. Their challenge is in maintaining their market share, for my company, Brackenhill, we do not begin to register on any market share measurement and so we have a much more mundane challenge; Namely to win enough work to firstly pay the staff, secondly pay the bills, thirdly pay me and finally (and hopefully) make a profit and grow. Do not get me wrong this is not a jibe against the big graphic design studios (I'm definitely wanting that for my business) but just a real observation as to how things are.

The benefit that the larger agencies do have is the availability of resource to prepare pitches on a speculative basis knowing that they're going to be invited to enough pitches that by the law of benefits they'll win their fair share and then give them a return on the investment. For smaller agencies, free pitching is anathema, in the first place the 'free' bit relates to the prospective client only!

The worst culprit for maintaining this approach appears to be the public sector. Their modus operandi for making purchasing decisions is based upon 'tendering' and in a vain attempt to appear to be even-handed they allow all and sundry to apply to on their roster of approved suppliers. Consequently you can have say 60 or more hopefuls completing arduous tender documents and preparing some design ideas as to how they would represent a certain facet of the creative brief.

Now in my experience unless you have ISO9001, Investors in People, have been established for at least 3 years, have both an environment and health & safety policy then do not bother completing the form – you're going to be in the bin with the also rans.

More importantly though, if you can not evidence previous experience of working with a public sector client then you're pushing the boulder up the hill '. I have no proof, but I suspect, that if the size of the roster is pre-determined at say 6 suppliers then at least 4 of those will be previous charges – and to be honest, why not? If these businesses have proved previously to have all of the right qualities of creative skill, service and price, why change – but why have to go through the tragedy of change to get this result?

Furthermore, and sadly this is the cynicism born of age, I'm not convinced that all the creative submissions are treated with the integrity they deserve and by this I mean that ideas generated by 'unsuccessful' agencies do still find themselves incorporated in the finished piece.

As an example of how ludicrous this process can be, before I bought the company, Brackenhill had applied to a graphic design supplier to a local Metropolitan District Council. About a year later, after infrequent requests for additional information on the way, we were surprised but deferred to be told that we were to be one of six their approved agencies. That was in July 2007 and since then guess how many times we've been asked to respond to a creative brief – yes, none, zip, zero.

Bitter, no – more experienced, yes, we will complete another tender document, probably not!

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AR Forshaw


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