Tips and Tricks

The Straightforward Guide to Graphic Design – Part 4

Finding an ideal design partner... ditch the pitch

The Straightforward Guide to Graphic Design – Part 4
The 'free pitch' has long been called into question, and for good reason.

As we discussed in our previous posts, graphic design has become democratised, so when it comes to selecting the design agency for you, there is often no shortage of choice. Of course, making the right choice can be somewhat more complex. In our view, in addition to creativity (which should be a given), there are a host of other things that are worth looking out for, many of which do not come from a free pitching process.

We understand that as a client, it may be tempting to put multiple agencies to the test before selecting one, but the value of the ‘free pitch’ has long been called into question, and for good reason. Despite its allure, this old industry habit is not just wasteful of agency resources, it’s dangerous for the client as well. In short, when it comes to free creative pitching, everyone gets the short end of the stick.

Amongst other things, the pitching process can, in many cases, completely omit those important ‘getting to know you’ stages that we’ve previously talked about and gloss over the true value that your designer has the potential to add…


Design agencies sell an expert problem-solving service. When you hire a professional team, you’re getting a creative team who will dive into your business, investigate the problem, understand the stakeholders, and collaborate with you to fine-tune a solution that takes all of these into account. Much of what makes a solution successful are the insights that come along the way throughout this journey.

With the pitching process, however, all of this is generally thrown out the window in favour of a skeletal brief and some swift guesswork on the part of the agency, capped with a theatrical talent show. The result? A surface-level solution that might tick all the boxes in a creative pitch, but which has ultimately cheated you of the full value of the investigative design process.


Despite the fact that they’d likely love to work with you, some agencies may decline to take part in your pitch, leaving you with a weakened field. Here’s the reason why…

As an agency, we’ll be the first to admit that speculative work is time and cost intensive and can be a massive drain on resources. It’s inevitable that an agency will only be able to invest a certain amount into your pitch if they are busy delivering results for their existing (paying) clients. This means that you won’t get the full benefit of working with them – you’ll get a watered down solution that will in most cases be ‘style over substance’. While some agencies may be happy with that, there are those amongst us who certainly wouldn’t be – and you shouldn’t be either.


It may feel like there is no viable alternative when it comes to finding your designer, but that is not the case. If you want to see an agency at their best (and eliminate the chance of flimsy, poorly considered creative), invite them in to give a credentials presentation.

This is a great way to get to know an agency and see evidence of the work they’ve completed for others. It’s an opportunity to get to grips with their processes so that you can evaluate whether they’d be a good fit for you and of course, will provide an insight into their creative capabilities too.


1. Involve the right decision-makers

Make sure when meeting an agency that all of the decision-makers are in the room. As well as senior members of staff, this may well include those who will directly be working with the agency to make sure the project is delivered effectively. Those are the people who have to work with the agency after all – so rapport is important. It’s far better for all of the important stakeholders to witness the presentations in their entirety, and be able to ask their own questions.

2. Don’t get hung up on design

When evaluating an agency, try not to put too much weight on a specific design concept presented but instead, focus on the bigger picture. It’s more important that you can clearly see that their work is of a high quality, that they have the ability to innovate and that they demonstrate understanding.

Not all agencies will be a good fit for the personality of your business. Keep an eye on cultural fit and attitude, and don’t underestimate the power of that hard-to-define “chemistry.” (Yep, it’s a bit like dating.) It goes without saying that they should be presenting some fantastic design work, but designs can be changed – the team delivering them can’t.

3. Look for process

Use the designs presented as a window into each agency’s process. What research did they conduct? How were the solutions arrived at? Does the agency have a formal way of looping the client into the process from start to finish? All of this is a great indication as to whether you think you could work well with the agency and build a partnership that works.

Ultimately, this is just the beginning (hopefully!) of a longer process of creative problem-solving. By using it to understand how an agency works, and to get a feel for working together, a more successful union is on the cards. Treat it like a quick competition and, well, you’ll get what you’ve paid for…

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