Any good web agency will refuse to bid for your web design project if you suggest a pitch. It’s a real red flag, an indicator you don’t take the matter seriously enough. In fact, the Association of Registered Graphic Designers forbids members to engage in pitches and encourages them to report requests for on-spec work.

MAINTAINING A RELATIONSHIP WITH A WEB AGENCY

It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.” Alan Shepard, 1923-1998.

Alan Shepard wasn’t a web designer. He was an American astronaut. But he knew how it felt to have his livelihood – and his life- compromised by powerful people whose priority was saving money. We are website designers, and we feel much the same about creative pitches.

A creative pitch involves us doing a lot of free work in the hope that a prospective client, who has also asked some other agencies to pitch, will choose us. While price-based decision making isn’t exactly life-threatening for us, like it potentially was for Shepard, in our opinion, it’s equally bad for business. And we’re not alone. A lot of marketing, advertising and design agencies feel the same.

WHY IS PITCHING BAD FOR US… AND FOR YOU?

First and foremost, pitch and tender decisions almost always depend on price. It’s an awful way to choose the best agency for the job, reducing it to a price war when website design is almost always worth what you pay for it.

The tender process rewards people who have time on their hands, those who don’t regularly win work. Is that really who you want to partner with for your significant online presence? Tenders are often based on very little client information too, and it’s all too easy to end up over-promising and – almost inevitably – under-delivering.

Pitching pits agencies against one another in a highly artificial way, rarely comparing like for like. The agencies who don’t win end up having spent a lot of time and money on the pitch, all for nothing. And, sadly, clients that base such important decisions on price alone tend to be much more demanding than the rest, sometimes unreasonably so.

Spec work exposes companies like us to intellectual property theft. Almost every agency we know has a horror story to tell about a prospective client using their website design idea after rejecting a pitch, without any compensation. It’s downright dishonourable and dishonest. We’d much rather steer clear of the risk altogether and, as you can imagine, we don’t like working with people whose primary aim is to rip us off! We’re nice, and we like working with nice people.

But, the single most important reason we don’t do spec web design work is this: we need to understand the client’s goals and objectives, and the tender process doesn’t take any of it into account. People like you rightly hold us accountable for the effectiveness of the sites we create. We can’t create a website that drives the required results when we don’t have a clear picture of your objectives up front. Knowing clients’ goals from the start is the only way to design a website that gets the results you want.

Great design depends on excellent planning. Planning involves competitor research and analysis, examining other websites’ strengths and weaknesses, how they communicate their message and associated content, the site’s functionality, the business’ audience and a lot more. We’ll build relevant persona to help focus on your target audience. And we’ll identify how customers and prospects interact with your organisation.

In addition, we believe it’s vital to base your design agency partner decision on much more than the cost. What about the serious stuff like credentials, capability, creativity and chemistry? The result should be a finely-tuned marketing tool. Which is what clients don’t get when they start the process off with a pitch.

The creative side of a pitch will almost always be sub-standard, simply because the companies pitching don’t have all the information they need to do the best job. It’ll be based on a narrow and often naïve view of your organisation and an equally narrow view of your target audience and sector.

Last but not least, pitching is a bit weird, full stop. Would a builder build you a house on spec, letting you decide for sure whether or not you want to buy it once it’s finished? Probably not.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST WEB DESIGN PARTNER?

Any good design agency will have an online portfolio for you to explore, created to help people like you make the right decisions. If you want to see more or see something more relevant to your project, just ask. Most agencies only put a decent handful of portfolio items on-site, since it’s poor marketing practice to stuff in hundreds of examples.

Our best advice? Never ask an agency to tender. Never ask anyone to do pro bono web design work. Make your decision based on their website, their portfolio, how quickly they respond to your enquiry, the quality of the information they provide and how well you get on, on a personal level.