“An insulting pitch,” email from MK12 co-founder Ben Radatz

radatz

Ben Radatz

MK12 co-founder Ben Radatz has been pitching and producing motion design work since 1999. 

Like many people who’ve been in the game for a while, he’s concerned about the direction the industry is headed. Everyone, it seems, wants more for less — in half the time.

Recently, MK12 was approached to pitch just to be considered to pitch “for real’ on a job for a large, multi-national company.

This did not go over well with Ben. In an email to a colleague, he explained why:

Email from Ben Radatz

We are passing on [Client Name], and I wanted to briefly explain why.

Both how this job was presented to us, and the parameters of it, are problematic. To the first point, we can’t make a responsible decision about accepting a pitch if we only know its creative parameters.

Too many times, we’ve put our backs into a presentation only to find out that the budget works out to less than minimum wage after the fact. This is on big jobs for big brands who should know better.

But they don’t and so we have to use caution. Therefore, we need budget and schedule estimates before we can consider a project, or at least confirmation if they have neither and need us to bid.

To the second point, this is an insulting pitch. Not only do we have to first pitch in order to earn the right to actually pitch, but we then have to work for free for two weeks, and then, after all that, the agency retains the right to use what we create during that period.

In what world does that make sense? This is [Client Name]. Their parent company is worth $240 billion.

I can't think of any other industry in which those kinds of conditions are acceptable.

It's exploitative and unethical and just downright inconsiderate.

I can’t think of any other industry in which those kinds of conditions are acceptable. It’s exploitative and unethical and just downright inconsiderate. We have families to feed, employees to pay and doors to keep open.

[Client Name] is far from a charity, and it’s shameful that they think so little of their own mark that they do not see the value in seeding a proper exploratory phase for it.

But the agency — who I presume are on the clock — know that there are a dozen studios within shouting distance in need of work and would gladly do it for free, because unfortunately that’s how the game is played these days.

We are certainly in need of work too, but not at the expense of our free time or our dignity. Because that’s what this comes down to — this pitch isn’t paying any bills, so to accept it would mean subtracting time from our families, our weekends, our vacations.

If they don’t value our time enough to pay for it, we don’t value their project enough to consider it. And it’s their loss, because we’re really, really good at what we do.

I’d love for you to forward this on to the agency (though I’d understand if you wouldn’t), because this is a practice that hurts everyone (but them) and needs to stop. Perhaps studios like ours are ultimately at fault for pretending to be fine with it, but maybe if enough of us actually said something and stopped entertaining these [pitches], things could change.

Thanks for the ear,
Ben

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About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer and F5. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.
  • Rogier Hendriks

    Isn’t it about time to create a blacklist?

    • Heebok Lee

      i thought the same thing.

      • Rogier Hendriks

        In the mean time, the majority of them are celebrating their succes in Cannes right now…

      • David Sheldon-Hicks

        This conversation definitely needs more thought. We keep hearing about the problems with free pitching but we don’t have a consensus on a roadmap towards a solution. I’m not sure a blacklist works personally. You risk shaming a brand with multiple clients some of which could be very fair in there vendor engagements. Maybe an animation to open discussions!?

        • There is no need for a consensus to a solution; because it never was a problem that was supposed to exist in the first place. These companies simply need to pay to get the job done. They’re dangling their name for the studio’s portfolio because the studio’s management mistakenly think prostituting – pardon my heavy language – themselves for long-term gains will pay off, which let me tell you from my experience doesn’t happen. I’m in the creative industry and I’ve seen myself how often creative agencies close down because of idiotic management making bad decisions like accepting free work, thinking they’re cultivating future prospects when they haven’t considered how to keep the rent and electricity up and employees showing up for the next few months.

          No disrespect but I feel you’re looking at this from the wrong angle.

          It’s really simple: If you want someone to work for you, you have to pay them. I don’t know how it got to this point exactly but getting free creative work isn’t clever, it’s bullying, exploitative and downright thievery.

    • I live in Brasil, and yeah I definitely think there should be a blacklist for every country’s creative industry. but I think for it to work it should be protected somehow…be an annonymous thing, so companies couldn’t really know who’s saying bad things about it. or rather focus on a quality score, and suggestions of how to fix the issues… anything in these terms I’m sure would be very useful for the whole world creative industry.

    • Nilsson Tonada

      We have a blacklist of agencies here in Colombia. It works a lot.

      • Interesting. Do the agencies on the list know they’re on the list?

        • Nilsson Tonada

          I dont know for sure but I think so. That blacklist is well known.

      • Ben Radatz

        Interesting — could you share how that works? Is it an open forum that everyone contributes to? And is there just a general agreement amongst studios to not work with those agencies?

        • Nilsson Tonada

          Of course. There is a group on Facebook where the people write their experience with X company, then the mini-staff from the fan page evaluate the case and If everything looks real, they post it for all the community.

    • leonardo2001

      We could create a blacklist but IMO, the issue here is that always someone will take the work and pitch because these couple reasons: 1) looking for exposure, 2) young companies that need work, expand portfolio and connections with clients.

      It’s hard to avoid it. I can see established individuals and companies taking a stand but not everyone will follow suit. It’s tough. I have been hearing about the pitch issue for several years. It just gets worse. Our industry is becoming more and more mainstream with lots of competition. Work is also outsourced to other countries were wages are lower than the US. Not sure a blacklist would deter or eliminate the issue.
      Clients know this and for sure take advantage. It’s unfortunate.

  • Mind=Blown

    This is crazy because MK12 shouldn’t have to “prove” themselves to anyone, owners of companies have to stand up to this in the same way as Ben has or we’ll turn into the VFX industry with no spine, insane work hours, little to no pay and directors that say “I don’t really ‘get’ R&D”. We’re lucky that motion graphic studios have a much wider pool of work to pull from instead of a few major studios that do all of the work for a limited number of movies as in VFX, really there’s plenty of work out there so no one should be afraid to say “no thanks” to a ridiculous job or free work request. Our company would react the same way if we got an “offer” like this, we’d pass and would explain why hoping that they were open to hearing what we had to say. But, never work for free or less than you’re worth, when you work for free you’re basically admitting that that’s all you’re worth, nothing. If they can’t pay you a reasonable amount for a project or give a reasonable timeline then that’s their bad, they should have charged more to the client and on timelines give me a break, it’s like people forget that Christmas is the same day every year, it’s the difference between a client we have that’s doing their Christmas creative now vs some that will be scrambling weeks or even days before Christmas happens and will call it a “rush job”, well guess what, rush jobs cost a lot more, so get with the program.

    I think it has a lot to do with educating the client on what it is that we do, what things really cost and how long they actually take to do (and render lol), if they’re open to that it’s great. The best agency clients we have are the ones that try to understand the issues we deal with when executing each project and start talking to us early in the process so they know how much to charge their client, how long it will take, so that everyone is happy, they actually make sure their creative ideas are doable in the time allotted and it’s more like a partnership. The worst are the ones who could care less about who, what, when, where or how things are being done and need it yesterday, we just avoid projects from people like that, the burn out will ruin you even if it’s a “fun” project and will cut into your time with clients that are actually reasonable, same goes for low to no pay, you will be exhausted and have nothing to show for it.

    Lastly, I worked at a large agency for a few years and the issue I saw was, many agencies do not have people skilled in actual execution of ideas or the tools used, so the ones making these requests have probably been burned many times. For example I’ve seen, basically, an animatic turned in as a final animation on a major project near the due date, which was one of the craziest things I’ve seen happen to this agency, it was chaotic, after that happened and they nearly lost the client the project managers were scared of it happening again so they start doing things like asking studios to do a bit of work for free, so they can ease their own fears of “can they actually execute this”, they do this because they have no concept of the difficulty of each project (because no one is educating them and to be fair this agency didn’t want to be educated) so they will ask studios to do it on every project, just to be safe.

    I’m also sure that some do it so they can get a bunch of ideas for free because their creative is performing poorly, I’ve seen it happen with a logo design for a major companies product, get a bunch of ideas for free, choose none, combine two of the ideas to create unique logo, profit, pretty sad. Same with timelines, the padding is real, every person in the chain was giving themselves a week padding to feel safe after this incident, completely cutting into the time necessary to actually complete projects and not understanding why things were all of a sudden failing to get done, again because they have no education on how long things take to execute, etc. they eventually lost the client, that’s why open communication with the client and having an understand of each other role is so important, if someone can’t understand and doesn’t want to learn then there’s no reason to work for or with them unless you enjoy stress.

    The studios that keep accepting projects like this in an attempt to grow will simply go out of business through being overworked with little pay, personally I refuse to do that.

  • David Tenenbaum

    This reminds me a little of interesting ‘interview’ practice I have seen of late: Big multinational implies that there is a position open, and part of the process of proving one’s worthiness for the position is to work on an example project that allegedly would be the sort of thing one would do in that position. The company then collects all the submitted work of the candidates, uses the best stuff to solve their real problem (getting that bit of work done) … and the hiring for that position mysteriously never happens. Congratulations! You just did some free consulting for a multinational corporation, under the premise of competing for the chance to work for them, when in reality … they were never hiring.

    • Wow. That is disgusting.

    • jamesgray8

      Yes, this is akin to an agency trick I’ve seen numerous times over the years. It goes something like this: an agency is in trouble with a client, or just wants to show they’re working and they have ideas. So the agency sets aside some money, and goes out to a number of companies, saying there’s a big project for a new branding campaign, and there’s even “a little” money for the pitch — usually $10k or so. And they’re open to hearing new concepts. So you pitch for a few rounds, create entirely original concepts, do full storyboards, concept art, and maybe even a test or two . . . and as the weeks go by, the “big project” gets put on hold, and becomes less and less real. And then months later, you look back, and you see there was never a big project. The agency was just trying to impress the client with a bunch of awesome concept art and motion tests that you did. In one case (Ford client, agency shall remain nameless), I learned there were 9 companies in such a pitch (when it was originally indicated that we were the only ones, and then we were one of four). In another case (Diet Coke client, agency shall remain nameless), it was 13 companies. And if I really went back and looked over the past 10 years, I feel as if I could find at least a dozen more examples of this outright stealing of content. “Disgusting” doesn’t go far enough. This is fraud — if not legally, then at least ethically.

  • Bran DJ

    Well said, Ben! It’s really past time for motion design studios to force clients to hire them based on their portfolios and past work, not on free spec work done in competition with their colleagues. I hope this convinces many other studios to take a principled stance against doing unpaid work to “win” jobs.

    • Jodi Terwilliger

      I’m sorry but those who know me, know which side of the idealistic fence I stand on. However in this case, the argument falls apart with this line of complaint:

      “Too many times, we’ve put our backs into a presentation only to find out that the budget works out to less than minimum wage after the fact. This is on big jobs for big brands who should know better.”

      Mk12 has been in this game for long enough to be able to vet their clients better. To budget their projects and establish parameters. To qualify THE CLIENT as opposed to putting themselves in a position to be seen as nothing more than a mere commodity. This entire rant is riddled with red flags they should’ve paid attention to.

      Is the industry unfair? Yes. This is the life you’ve chosen. If you can’t accept that, or can’t find wins within it, then you should leave it. You work for a client, not for yourselves. Therefore it’s your job to do their job. If you can’t figure out a way to manage your artistic input based on their needs, then change the brief, and be skilled enough to do it. If you’re a production company (and sorry guys, you are) then produce and know where you stand. If you don’t want to be that, do something else. If you didn’t budget your own time and your employees time better, learn from it and make sure you do it next time.

      “Not only do we have to first pitch to then pitch” that’s how it works. Who the fuck do you think you are?! That’s how Zaha Hadid had to do it until the day she died! And if you want to challenge me on that, feel free. I’ll back it up with fact. Are you so important that you get to complain like this?!

      Go be an architect, then come back to a commodity-based production company system and tell me how we should feel sorry for you not vetting your projects better. Wait till you’re the most famous architect in the world, and some asshole billionaire is telling you what you can and can’t do, giving you the privilege to work for THEM on THEIR piece of land.

      Guys, this is all love. Get over yourselves. Do the work you love, and understand that—to quote Bob Dylan—”everbody’s gotta serve somebody.” And everybody’s gotta do their homework.

      If you smell shit, there’s likely shit. And if you don’t walk around it, having to clean your shoes is your own damn fault.

      Especially when you’ve been wearing those shoes for 16 years.

      • Chris Allard

        “Who the fuck do you think you are?!”

        With all due respect – they are MK12, some of the greatest artists in the history of motion graphics. They have proven themselves time and again in executing successful, industry and culture changing projects for paying, demanding clients.

        “MK12 has been in this game for long enough to be able to vet their clients better …This entire rant is riddled with red flags they should have paid attention to.”

        I believe the point of the article is that they have made mistakes in the past when vetting clients (we all have), have learned from those mistakes and as such chose to pass on the client in question. Thus they paid attention to the red flags and acted accordingly.

        “That’s how it works”. Again, I think the corollary point that the article is making is that current trends in the industry are leading to conditions that make the entire practice of high end commercial graphics an unsustainable one. Thus the need for artists, studios and agencies to continue to enter into serious discussion as to how high end design and animation skills can deliver value to companies such that the artists in question can pay their electric bills and feed their children.

        You and Zaha Hadid represent the top echelon of artists worldwide – I and most others can’t speak to the particulars of the day to day interactions you have with your clients. But if only artists of the absolute highest stature can make a sustainable living given the current state of the industry worldwide, I’m thankful for the service Mr. Radatz has provided in helping to make the general public aware of that.

      • Julien Schleiffer

        Jodi, I don’t know you but your message sounds a bit defeatist.

        I don’t think the argument revolves around being able or not to evaluate the client. This shouldn’t make us lose sight on the real problem: clients not willing to pay for a work.

        It’s not because something has existed for ages that it should remain. It’s not because the industry is unfair that it should stay like this. It’s part of our job as creative individuals, to protect it or to change the way things tend to become.

        This kind of practice and its acceptance is crippling the whole industry. And to me, bigger names (you mentioned Zaha Hadid) and studios have a greater responsibility. It’s a SHAME that at this level, someone is not able to ask his client for basic respect. Then how can my voice be heard?

        I quote you “that’s how it works. Who the fuck do you think you are?!” And “who the fuck” the client thinks he is?

        This morning I went to buy bread at the bakery. It would never have crossed my mind to tell the owner “if I like it, I’ll come back and pay tomorrow”. But we should accept it because things are like this in our field? What is the next step?

        I’m sorry and this is all love, but if you really think things should keep going this way, you’re the one that may consider leaving.

        • For what it’s worth, if a client won’t reveal their budget, that’s a huge red flag. I always cry B.S.

          Be shrewd and always demand a budget. Here’s how – http://www.revthink.com/uncovering-your-clients-secret-budget/

          Btw in those cases where a client hides the budget, don’t trust them… and therefore greatly reduce the amount of time/money you will invest in the pitch.

          Let’s be motivated more by common sense, less out of desperation.

          • Ben Radatz

            The kinds of RFPs we see may just be different from the norm, but I’d guess a good 50% of them do not yet have budgets. Of those, about half are because they’d like us to bid, and the other half are just because they don’t have their act together. Or so they say. Because it’s such a high percentage sometimes we have no choice but to jump, but yes, unsurprisingly they’re almost always duds.

      • MotionGraphics Freelance

        OH my god, what a load of crap. Yes, it is an unfair industry, That does not mean we are supposed to eat it up just because that’s the way it is. I’ve still have to see doctors, lawyers and engineers to do their work on spec just to see if we like it. Not even garbage gets picked up for free, why a highly skilled profession like this one should be given away for free in the hopes of getting crumbs after that?

        “Do the work you love”, yes, but not for free.

        “Who the fuck do you think you are?!”
        Dude, really? Your in the wrong conversation, seriously.

  • leonardo2001

    Well said. I have been in this industry for the past 20y. The pitch phenomenon is just an awful liability to all the professionals in our industry. I wished all professionals would have a gentleman’s agreement and deny working for free and send a message across the industry. Unfortunately this is a pipe dream.
    I am a freelance designer and I refuse working for free. I have a family and I need to put food on the table and give shelter. If everyone had the same mentality, clients would not dare to ask.

  • Just Sayin

    Well there’s almost zero transparency in studios. When was the last time a producer told you, the artist, the project budget? Shit, in almost every case if the artists knew how little of a piece of the cake they were walking away with, in relation to the amount of said cake that they were actually responsible for making, shops would have no choice but to “trickle-up” the inevitably increased production costs.

    And who do you think are the individuals opening up these new shops underbidding the big dogs? It’s disgruntled artists who really have no clue, have no overhead, and who’ve figured since they were doing most of the work, that they should get a commensurate slice of the pie – which is larger than the piece they were getting working for shops, but significantly smaller than the bottom-line these shops were committing to secrecy.

    Any of you regular Joes working at MK12 ever get to see the estimates and actuals? My guess is no. So pick your poison Ben Radatz. Not saying you did this to yourself, but perhaps the change starts from within your own doors.

    • Hey dude, I have a few thoughts on this- Studios are still paying for your time while you work on their free pitch right? That’s a pretty big difference here. That money comes from the margins from previous jobs.
      If studios are being under cut but upstarts that is just a sign that the studio isnt offering enough added value through experienced producers, communication and reliability. So yeah, that’s complacency.
      Lastly, As an artist youre only ever going to earn a percentage of what you earn for the person you work for. Same goes for studios. If your unhappy with your rate, raise it. You’ll find the ceiling (intrinsic value) pretty quick .

      • Just Sayin

        Don’t get me wrong I’m 100% against the free pitch. And, just out of principle, would turn down any paying gig of which I was made aware that the agency or client involved were expecting it on spec – I’m not in the business of bankrupting studios or having my designs made a “source of inspiration”. And yet it seems to be a cardinal sin to let the artists know what they’re walking into in terms of money.

        So imagine this. The best designers in this industry, from whom many of the winning pitches are born, would typically have enough work coming their way that they could simply exclude themselves from those that were free pitches. What difference would it make to those individuals whether or not they took a studio spec job or one that would benefit both shop and artist? There’s really no scenario where a designer would knowingly risk their work being unknowingly one-offed by another poor-schmuck designer regardless of the compensation, and most definitely not if they knew the studio was getting screwed as well. I’ve experienced this many times and I’m sure most seasoned designers see it as well.

        This issue of “free pitches” isn’t really going anywhere if we expect the change to come from agency or client. Do you think they give half a shit if a third of the studios start refusing their RFP? You don’t think they have the resources to bootstrap their own suitable design operations internally? And I’m not saying that studios need to publish their financial statements for everyone to see. But the dialogue has seemed to always lean heavily at the executive level of studios. But honestly who’s doing the real work here? Maybe that’s where the change has to truly gain traction. Just throwing ideas out there.

    • iartiststv

      Mr Just Sayin, use your real name, why hide?

      I think you are way off base here… First of all, you are twisting the conversation 2nd you sound like a brat! If you, as an artist, are willing to take the risk that studio owners take by having a business… staying up at night to make payroll, paying for benefits, keeping the doors open, paying taxes, feeding you in many cases and on and on and on… just open your own studio and you will know why it is not of the artists business to look at actuals unless you are willing to contribute when there is a loss… which I am sure your answer is NO! However, you should know many artists have a sense of ownership and do get involved in helping studio owners grow and those do gain transparency…

      Pitching cost money, even when clients help with the burden… do you not get paid when asked to pitch? Like Alex said, who do you think pays for your full rate when the company is not getting a penny for a pitch? not to mention the money that goes to cover for artists or producers mistakes… but you have no skin in the game, so what do you care…?

      We are in a crazy business, where budgets keep shrinking, but we are doing what we love, I hope thats the case for everyone here… and we are making a good living while creating beautiful work…

      My hat off to all the brave ones like Ben who’ve been able to produce top work and stay in business for so long… I don’t know what the solution is, but working for free is not smart business… I’ve been outspoken about “pitching practices” for years… Not a advocate of free pitching, but in many cases if you want to work on a great main title or an agency campaign, we seem to have no choice… which is why diversifying the studio is key to making it to the other side alive and with hopefully some assets by the end of a great career!

      All this with Love!

      Danixa

    • Ben Radatz

      Thank you for your perspective. What you are describing sounds like artists cutting off their own noses to spite the face of the larger community over a policy grudge.

      While budget disclosure is a topic that I’m certainly happy to discuss and will below, my beef is specific to agency practices that exploit the competitive nature of commercial artists, and the increasing absurdity of their demands.

      Asking an artist or studio to work under agency direction for free for several weeks without a guarantee of actual work — and then demanding the intellectual property behind that work — is a bit like me going to a restaurant and not only expecting the meal for free but then also asking for the recipe, just in case I want to include it on the menu at my competing restaurant.

      But to answer your question directly, in two parts: 1) No, we do not often disclose our project budgets, because it’s not germane to the task. Nor do agencies disclose their full budgets to us, nor do I imagine that you disclose your income to your barista. If what we can offer isn’t competitive, we lose artists. That’s the free market at work. 2) We have no regular joes (or janes) at MK12.

      You may be working off the assumption that budgets aren’t disclosed because it’d expose an obscene profit gap, but the reality is more benign: there’s just little point in involving the whole studio in what goes into keeping the lights on on a day-to-day basis. I can only speak for my shop of course, but I’d wager it’s not much different elsewhere, save maybe for the big studios.

      When we evaluate a potential project, I am fully aware that we are probably seeing a very small slice of the bigger pie, but if I let that keep me up at night I’d get very little sleep. If it makes sense for the money, that’s all I want to know.

      Those disgruntled artists you mention may one day find themselves up for bigger jobs and will likely kick themselves for setting the bar so low that they haven’t the resources to compete with an even-newer wave of artists who themselves have to set the bar even lower to be considered. It’s a cycle that ultimately benefits no one but the guys up top.

      • pjay1977

        disclosing the budgets to the artists assume that the studios are making fortunes at the artists expense. a) this is fairly irrelevant to this particular article, b) the majority of the time its quite the opposite, c) budgets are very surgical and overwelming, theres paying producers, PAs, your bookkeeper, your rep, overhead, taxes, etc. Do you really want to put that equation on an artist that just wants to have the clarity of mind to make great design and animation?

  • we’ve all been there. and hope we all say no everytime this happens.

  • pjay1977

    Whats worse, and what we have discovered is that agencies frequently know whom they want to go with to start, but their clients force them to triple bid. We’ve been on the good and bad side of this, I feel like thats the part that should get the most transparency. Tell us you want a write up and references if you know we arent favored.

    On the flip side for the better, the little studios coming out of nowhere and saying yes to anything often cannot deliver to the scale and with the consistency of especially the mid sized experienced studios like MK12. It’s not a knock on them, as the super large studios sometimes let stuff fall in the cracks. We’ve received requests to resuscitate projects from both ends of the spectrum so it can even out sometimes.

    After all of it, like Ben rightly states, you just gotta stay true to what you can and cant do.

  • Presidente Gallente

    The main problem is that advertisment agencies are more and more under full control by cost controllers because of the client’s cost controlling pressure killing their suppliers step by step and young consulants without much experience even start to interfere in creative processes with insulting an stupid comments about your work in progress. Creatives are frustrated because they don’t want to get stressed out by stupid politics where they have no vote anymore. Ben Radatz is absolutely doing right. This nonsense has to stop and let those arrogant agencies burn into the hell of lone warriors and stressed out amateurs filing for bankrupcy sooner or later.

  • iartiststv

    What you are describing is a collective where everyone is a partner and as partners everyone will share the ups and downs, revenues and losses… No one is stopping you from starting a collective, please by all means just DO IT!

    And no one here is pro free pitches, I think you are so focused on your own situation, that you have missed the main point of this very important topic…

    Regardless, it is great to have a forum where we can throw out ideas and discuss the state of our industry!

    All the best…
    Danixa

  • iartiststv

    Ben thank you so much for opening the conversation once again… As you can see a lot of us are passionate about what you just shared! I feel this is an on-going topic and personally I’ve written many similar emails directly to clients and had many conversations about the negative impact of asking our community to work for free.

    After many years working in this industry with people I love and admire, I’ve learned not to be afraid to ask questions from the get go and to use one of the most powerful words in our industry, PASS, but not before I methodically go through my own list of considerations
    and of course, not before principals and team members are all in agreement.

    Unfortunately, pitching is not going away and it is true that it is not unique to our industry, but I would say it is unique to creative sectors. As Jodi mentioned, big architectural firms like the late Saha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Gensler and many others, still have to compete, in many cases not just in a triple bid situation, but with 30, 40 or even 50 other firms… Sure their stakes are a lot higher than in our industry, but their RFPs are even more demanding and to win they will invest hundreds of thousands of $ and even millions to make the cut and then even more to stay in the mix. It is brutal…

    This method also goes for Interior Designers, Music Composers (where more and more buyouts seem to be ruling), Ad Agencies, Content Creators and I am sure many others… and to top it all off, is some countries, the studios/production cos are asked to finance the jobs for 90 or 120 days or even longer.

    What if we take this opportunity as an industry, to instead of creating a blacklist, which is not a bad idea, we create our own “Pitching Best Practices Manifesto,” and try our best to put it into practice… I will start by sharing part of my own early assessment process, which I think most people fail to consider, many times because we get excited or because there is very little time to assess properly… but this phase is key, take a deep breath and implement your own process and parameters within your organization.

    Also sharing some of my Pitching Best Practices and if interested, I encourage everyone to add their own comments and let’s regroup? Let’s take this show on the road… If we all agree on the message it could be really powerful…

    Phase I Assessing the Opportunity:

    1. Where are you in the relationship?
    +Did they reach out to you or did you reach out to them?
    +Do they know your work? and/or who recommended you?
    +Are you a preferred creative partner? a go to favorite?
    +Are they a repeat client or a new client?
    +or are you just the third wheel? the third bid? the outside of the box choice?

    2. Who is the client?
    +Is this a brand you want to do work for?
    +Is this an opportunity that will bring you creative freedom + satisfaction?
    +Do they have a reputation for running away with ideas presented?

    3. How transparent are they?
    +Are they giving you all the info you need to succeed?
    +Do you know who else is pitching? How many other cos pitching? what are your chances?
    + Are they giving you budget parameters? a range? or are they saying we don’t know or my favorite, the sky the limit?

    4. How will they be awarding?
    +Will they single bid you based on your body of work? specially if they are a repeat client and they come to you first…
    +What will it take for them to award the job to you?
    +What’s most important to them budget? creative? relationship?

    5. Is this job right for you?
    +If you are not sure, do you really need to take this on?
    +Know your pitching ratio… take all of your business data and break it down, it will very insightful!

    Phase I: This is the time to do your Research, learn about client’s trends, maybe call some colleagues and find out more about them… Time to ask: Is this job a great Creative Opportunity +/or Good Financial Decision +/or Relationship Builder… What do you value most at that particular moment?

    Best Practices:

    +Do not pitch for free… and charge for your design phases. Even if it is just a little bit of money, take it… anything will help you defray the investment… If too low, ask for more… it works…

    + Do not pitch if you don’t know the budget… This is a huge RED FLAG for me…I’ve heard them all “I don’t know” “The sky is the limit” “I’ve never bid this type of project before” etc… The sky is NEVER the limit… you have the experience, take a quick look at the job and throw a wide range back at them, of what it could cost depending on the creative direction or the approach… I assure you 9 times out of 10 the client will jump and reveal a range or a number, they did not seem to know when you asked the first time. If they still don’t know, PASS, why pitch on something you don’t know how much money they have? if they don’t know, why should you guess… Really? nothing was allocated for the project, then let’s not waste time.

    +Do not give it all for a small fee… a pitch fee is not an ownership fee, if a client wants to own your design, they should pay a proper fee or award.

    +Know your chances of winning… how many other companies in the race? and who are they?

    +Always ask for more money, we know it is never enough! Then give it your best… Clients that invest early on, are typically serious about the opportunity and will work with you.

    + Always PASS with respect, leave the door open… take the opportunity to educate the client, one at at time. Maybe they really didn’t know how to bid a job… So next time they may come back to you with the right project and the right information for you to make an informed decision. Be helpful, but don’t give the meal for free!

    Here are sources I always go to, when I need to refresh my soul:

    1. Win Without Pitching by Blair Enns … http://www.winwithoutpitching.com | Easier said than done, but pick your pitches…

    2. Mike Monteiro from Mule Design on “Fuc* you Pay Me” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6h3RJhoqgK8

    3. Zulu Alpha – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=essNmNOrQto

    I hope this keeps the conversations going…

    Danixa

    • sethblink

      Excellent ideas, Danixa. I wonder if there is a way to create a structure whereby pitching is monitored. Clients that request pitches for free, or for fees that are so low that no agency could not possibly compete without going into their pocket need to register their requests and all involved get to see how many agencies competed, who won and how much business was eventually won. Obviously pitching is not going to go away, but if agencies just say yes, it is inevitable that change goes in the wrong direction and agencies end up being asked to pitch for the right to pitch. That’s just wrong.

  • jamesgray8

    Thank you, Justin for sharing — and thank you Ben for taking a stand in this instance — and more importantly, for expressing why. As an industry veteran, I’m happy to say that I’ve taken many similar stands on this very issue — and I don’t regret any of them. Sure, you miss out on some work here and there, but mostly, I think it’s kept me and my teams out of terrible situations. Bottom line, the job should either pay well or be good creative — and the producers and creatives should have enough experience to narrow the pitch down to 3 great companies — perhaps 4 if you want an unproven wild card in the mix . . . any more than that, and just pitch cost plus.

    Too many times nowadays, it’s terrible budgets and zero creative control on a piece of mediocre creative. As artists, we have to draw the line. This was a good moment of line drawing, but it needs to be discussed more — and it needs additional actions to create any kind of change.

    What more can be done? Is it an AICP issue? Something else? I’ve got dozens of similar stories, and it’s not like it’s getting any better.

  • mike tang

    great letter and one i have seen too often in all creative industries. I myself lost out on jobs due to the need to pitch and also working on high paid jobs but for little to no money for the opportunity to “gain exposure” I do graphic design and branding, not motion graphics but the story is still the same. I hardly ever turn down work and or opportunities. This means that the pitch can be a real time waster as you never know if you are going to get it and if you do can you deliver the results they want within the budget they decide?
    What I find works best and to avoid the dreaded pitch is to create a unique product offering and style that means that if clients like what you do you are the go to company as no one else does what you do. by offering something that no one else can copy or at least is hard for others to imitate you limit the need to pitch. I see some amazing motion graphics companies who all have a very unique voice on this website and by ensuring that you all stay true to your brand and build strong relationships with the people who work at the agencies and decision makers you will reduce the need to pitch. they will automatically go to you as they trust your ability to deliver quality, crative and orginaly work

  • Jurriaan Hos

    The thing that stings most is the pitch to the actual pitch. Sorry but that’s what a portfolio or showreel is for right? We are in a wonderful business where we can actually show who we are by our work history. You can’t expect everyone to know names like mk12 but they can see with their own eyes if they like their quality ideas and style.

    Free pitches in general should not been given a lot of consideration whatever size a client is, if you want to have a chance anyway then just send in a quick idea and a simple sketch and your showreel. And then forget about the project, maybe they come back, but until then its now worth the energy.

  • MotionGraphics Freelance

    The main reason of clients/agencies asking us to work for free is that the people asking are always getting paid. They still have their monthly salary, and they will receive it no matter what, they are not financially invested in a project the same way vendors, be it studios, freelancers, photographers, etc. are or have to be in order to be part of a project. If art directors, producers and copywriters along with brand and product managers were to develop an idea without getting paid for a full month and even put up money out of their own paychecks in order to see it come to life, I guarantee you we would see this type of requests a lot less.

  • “Everyone, it seems, wants more for less — in half the time.”

    What is the cause of this trend? Is it the increase in suppliers and decrease in demand? I would imagine demand should still be relatively high considering the number of screens and outlets for video have increased dramatically since the 90’s, and you always see stats on how video trumps static imagery and text on social media, so I can’t imagine mobile to be the cause of this trend. So is motion design losing value (and are we to blame?) or is that value just being spread more evenly, or something different entirely?

  • A few thoughts:

    1. Which agency? I wish Ben had named names. Not to be peevish, but simply to let the industry know which agencies to avoid. We can be gracious and transparent at the same time.

    2. The Power of a Positive No: the simplest (obvious?) answer is for studios and production companies to simply say, “No.” If everyone declined these invitations, these agency requests would stop.

    3. Pitch Methodology: Years ago when I ran Impossible Pictures, we formulated a series of policies which served us very well. It wasn’t easy, but it worked. And our odds of winning pitches – when we did jump in – went way up. I spell out my approach here — http://www.revthink.com/modern-pitch-methodology/

    Joel

    • Ben Radatz

      Thank you for sharing this link, Joel — it was a very good read. I especially like what you say about creating policies. The common wisdom is to throw everything you can at a pitch: boards, motion, multiple directions. It’s the old high school mindset of quantity over quantity — if you impress with volume, you’ll get the A. I’ve not done the math but it seems that we’ve had more success when we limit our options and focus our time on just one or two solid directions.

      I can’t mention this studio by name without their permission but I do know that one of the bigger shops flat-out refuses to do unpaid motion tests. I really like that. I don’t think there’s any escaping unpaid pitches altogether and I’m not even opposed to the old school way of inviting a handful of studios to present boards and ideas, within reason; I just don’t like putting time and resources towards proving that we can animate. That’s what reels are for.

      And anyways, it seems that motion tests often do more harm than good because they’re slapped together and can be misleading in terms of detail and level of finish. Most clients have a hard time seeing past that, whereas with boards it leaves that open to imagination.

      Unfortunately I can’t name the agency because this one came through our reps and so it’s not my bridge to burn. Had it come to us directly it’d be a different story. Best I could do was try to get the message back upstream to them.

      • Thanks for that feedback, Ben. When I was running Impossible, I would routinely invest $25-50K into network rebrands. Minimizing my risks was not merely a matter of principle, it was a means of survival. Defining the rules of engagement – way before the client calls with an invitation to pitch – served me and my studio well.

        Thanks also for the level-headed discussion. Your graciousness and honesty are appreciated.

        Perhaps I’m a foolish optimist, but I do believe these types of discussions will make our industry stronger.

  • Not only does “pitch” work like this eat into family/recreational time, but it also lessens resources available to find and work for legitimate clients who do respect the craft, experience and work.

  • bernthis

    Many years ago, prior to my now career as a motion graphic artist, I was a stand up comic. Ad agencies would often bring us in to “audition” for commercials and ask us to improvise instead of using the copy they had given us. Time and again, those comedians and myself, wouldn’t get the work, only to find their words, which they had improvised on camera, were now being used in the ad with zero compensation to them. Finally, a comedian filed a lawsuit and suddenly he and I and many other comics were actually being somewhat compensated as writers. I am SURE many more were not, but it certainly had at least a small effect on what copy what used in ads from then on.

    • Karan Bhatia

      maybe now they’re using the ideas of Creative Crowdsourcing contestants, i’m one of them, and 90% of the time I don’t get paid or even know who got paid or what got produced

    • automatic_ab

      I’ve witnessed this first hand as well; it really is sickening that this has come as far as it has. The only question is, how do we solve it? Everything is either getting out-sourced out of the country or done by students. So where does that leave us? I’ve been working in my field since 2001, but that doesn’t seem to matter; all that matters is how much money they can save…

  • Ben Radatz

    Why thank you, sir!

    Re: barista: yeah the analogy falls apart there but point being whatever your money goes towards is at your discretion based on needs only you need to concern yourself with.

    Budget disclosure usually needs financial disclosure for context. A 20k job might look huge to an individual and would be if they got it on their own, but the likelihood of that happening against a studio is small. Producers only talk to producers and lawyers want someone to sue. So the next step is to incorporate, and presto: rent, bandwidth, utilities, commission, insurance, more insurance. It’s all worth it, but good god, who needs to know all that to do their best on that thing due on Friday?

    We actually proposed a model like what you mentioned here a few years back, where everyone could work as much or as little as they wanted and would profit accordingly. We lifted the core idea from Pentagram, who have been (kind of) doing it that way from the start. The consensus amongst everyone, employees included, was that it was just too ambiguous and risky.

    I do agree that everyone should see the spoils of an awarded job once the bases are covered, and sometimes it is good to disclose a budget so that everyone can manage their time properly, but the yang to full disclosure is sharing in the risk, which not everyone wants. Chances are that if you need that kind of info to feel satisfied with a project, you’re already of the mindset to open up your own shop or partner up somewhere anyways.

    • Well said, Ben.

      I implemented an ambitious profit sharing plan at Impossible Puctures… only to discover that only about 2 of my 25 employees gave a crap about a risk/reward form of compensation.

      Everyone else just wanted stability and a paycheck. Passing along the risk of pitches to my employees would have been disastrous.

      I think Just Sayin is (unlike most employees) ready to open his own shop.

  • Jenny Lens

    WHY hide their name? The ONLY way companies, whether an individual or worth billions and hiring many, will ever change their tune is by public shaming. Let’s bring back the old American tradition of putting ppl into stocks in the main drag.

    Let the world know what kind of scum they are. AND let us know to decide whether to purchase their products or not.

    My photos been bootlegged for 40 yrs. Fine Art America can use sacred art and ppl on shower curtains. But the minute we use Mickey Mouse, Coca-Cola, Pepsi or any of their many products, they haul our asses into court or send cease and desist letters.

    THIS does NO good by protecting the guilty. OUT THEM.

    I’ve learned a few things recently. We artists will never be treated well as long as we protect our abusers!!

    • Ben Radatz

      Hi Jenny — you are right, companies like these should be outed. I cannot in this instance though, as it came through our reps, and we have to respect that relationship. Had they come to us direct, certainly.

  • GRAFX CO.

    So after all said and done… Ben! Justin and all aboard! Rock on guys! Gone through all comments and discussions as well as the Zaha Hadid guy… Ben you are a better man than me… What a joke that guy was! Seems like no one can agree on creating a domain to openly share experiences… So how do we solve this? besides being silent soldiers of our own and standing up to the Goliath as David. We all know there are few clients who care about quality and most been after the quantity last, what: 7 – 8 years? More of these mom and pop shops who can afford adobe cc (which is becoming junk day by day) appear to serve the appetite here, how on earth, shops like us that does really carry the burden of overhead and “what is next?” struggle, be able to make a difference?

    Do we go out blacklist bunch of these suckers and get ourselves blacklisted as well?

    We all know riding on a $240 billion dollar boat requires infrastructure on large scale where these network agencies will never leave space open for us to cut them off and go after the client directly… We can not anyway, no $240 billion multinational company would work directly with a single company w/o a network on the global reach… So what do we do?

    A tiki bar by a beach…?

  • James Vincent Knowles

    Yeah man, why be afraid to name them? After all, they already don’t respect you. So what if they don’t like you? Best thing all of us can do is pin the tail squarely on the ass.

  • Great response Ben, and fantastic discussion it has triggered. There is (as mentioned numerous times) no short answer or solution to this issue. I for one look forward to assisting others in understanding the lose-lose scenario situations like these present.

  • Deep

    Damn it, internet. I don’t know how I landed up here. But here’s something interesting that one of the most famous ad guy had to say – David Droga: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKY4LQ1dNQI

  • COGowan

    Everyone wants more for less, and in half the time? Oh, yeah, that’s new. And [Client Name] doesn’t value what we do as much as we think they should? Again, that’s totally new to the industry. Why, I have never heard of such a thing.

  • Danny Yount

    Well said.

    Pitching for free like that will never garnish the respect necessary in a healthy working relationship.

    And educating the client of this disrespectful practice is the most responsible thing we should do as working professionals. And as much as we try to maintain our composure to keep the relationship intact we need to be reminded of the insensitivity of this request – that they do it because they feel they can.

    I was asked the same kind of thing from a company known for maintaining a very strong, pristine brand image. I wrote back saying “I don’t understand how one of the richest corporations in the world can have a design budget like this”. And I went back to work for good clients on the machine that they invented.

    I was also asked by a very popular band to do a 2 1/2 min title sequence for a budget that would cover me for about 2 days. When I looked up what was done for them in the past I saw music video production budgets in excess of 300k easily. The saddest part to me was when they defended themselves after reading my response by citing a documentary they released about how the music industry rips off artists.

    We must never do work for free to anyone who has the money. Period. If we do we have no right to complain about the lack of respect we deserve for giving in like that and creating a cheap perception of our craft.

    We do not need high-profile clients to create a good reel and get work that is rewarding professionally and financially. We just need to keep making good work that is meaningful. Respect (personally and relationally) is part of that process.

    D

    • Well said, Danny. It may feel like a dose of tough love but it’s true nonetheless: when any one of us does free work, we forfeit our right to complain. Touché.

  • Nate Davis

    “If they don’t value our time enough to pay for it, we don’t value their project enough to consider it.” This was one of the more thoughtful and articulate examples of the “screw you, client” email I’ve seen, and which we all love reading. Fighting this sort of client/agency behavior, however, is the same challenge as crowdsourcing: it only works if everyone agrees to do it. Problem is, there’s always someone less experienced or more desperate. . . .

    • ben

      Those people you mention are not going to create the same emotional effect as hiring MK12. That amazing yet “intangible” feeling can often translate into tens of millions of dollars of sales as it shapes brand perception. Getting something done cheap to an ok level of quality is more likely to be forgotten or have a smaller effect.

  • Johannes Newman

    Well, but still too nicely written. I think the main problem is not the client, it’s the agencies who just seem to be gagging for non-paid jobs they can put in their portfolio(for waking material). Over the past years the clients just got trained into a direction that creative work is just a free never-expiring good they can order any time, more or less for free. The agency would just fulfill every little wish they have, treating their workers like cattle, expecting 110% commitment. I feel like most parts of the “creative industry” so to say is just fully sick if you would compare the common well-known behaviours to other industries. To me as a graphic-/motiondesigner this makes me just wanna start a new job with better ethics – like… sweeping streets?