Free Pitch Backlash

Down the years I’ve been involved with several businesses for whom prospecting typically entails entering a beauty pageant of dubious repute. I encountered it online the other day as the free pitch.

Also known as spec work, it’s where as vendor you are required to submit to work pre-sale gratis, as a pre-condition. No speculative work provided, no contract consideration. One arena where this is ubiquitous features the creative pursuits. Design, advertising, marketing even.

I found a delightful twitter feed campaigning against anyone ever agreeing to such a damaging process with links aplenty to kindred writings.


A sample tweet presents a definition;

“… asking the world to have sex with you and promising a dinner date to one lucky winner.”
Jeffrey Zeldman

The arguments against free pitching in this sector clearly make blood boil. There seems universal chagrin that buyers under-value the process, know-how gets stolen, initial briefs are insufficient and the costs dwarf any benefits.

The answer of one industry representative body is to outline a best-practice framework who’s,

Guidelines must ensure that all parties are treated fairly in what currently is, at best, a relatively unknown pitching environment with few safeguards and, at worst an expensive, nightmarish roller coaster ride into the current culture where – without guidelines – the whole practice is open to abuse on both sides

I find this fascinating because I come from a background where the management of a ‘free pitch’ by the solution seller can be used to accelerate the buying cycle and cement RoI criteria.

The moment you formulise your activities that are most likely to bring victory you never look back.

It was a constant source of amazement to me that when I first started to sell big-ticket, complex items I won in part because I suggested a buying plan to the prospect and they bought into it. My thinking was that they only buy that kind of stuff once in a career. I was close to the buying of it every day. Surely there’s some merit in adopting evaluation tips from my vendor perspective? And so it proved.

A starting point for anyone similarly frustrated at free pitching losses is to first write down what the perfect campaign you last ran looked like. Who was involved and what for? What activity, agreement or event that when it happens always means you win? Get these on the buyer’s checklist.

Now you’re in a position to influence proceedings without having to resort to catwalking around in your swimwear with a numbered round disc on your wrist.

Own the process, own the account.

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