Research reveals 70% of clients expect designers to free pitch

Written by: Sarah Dawood
Published on: 20 Mar 2017

The What Clients Think 2017 report surveys over 450 design clients, and shows that while the majority do not expect to pay for pitches, nearly 90% see design as important to their brand.


New research has found that while clients see design as vital to a brand’s success, the majority would not expect to pay for a creative pitch.

The findings have been taken from a report based on interviews with 455 clients of design consultancies.

The What Clients Think 2017 report was conducted by advice consultancy Up to the Light, in association with the Design Business Association (DBA).

Most clients see design as important – but would not pay for a pitch

The report shows that while nearly 90% of clients surveyed value design as important to a brand’s success and see the standard of UK design consultancies as “very high”, almost 70% of clients say they would not expect to pay for a creative pitch.

Deborah Dawton, CEO at the DBA, says that culture needs to change on both design and client sides. “It bowls me over that our sector’s overwhelming instinct is still to give work away for free to be in the running for a brand’s patronage,” she says. “Designers have a responsibility to fully diagnose the situation they are faced with and prescribe the right solution and that cannot happen without a good working relationship based on mutual respect.”

Only half of clients thought their design consultancy was good value for money, and nearly 80% thought their consultancy was expensive compared to other agencies.

Dawton says design consultancies need to demonstrate the financial benefits of their work to clients.“It’s more important than ever to demonstrate the tangible value you add,” she says. “So if you’re not in the habit of hanging around long enough to measure the impact of your work, your days are probably numbered. There’s been an explosion in the desire to measure and evaluate – brands need great creativity and design effectiveness.”

Nearly 95% also say that their designers do not have a presence in the “boardroom”, so do not have a relationship with top-level client-side employees such as CEOs. For this reason, Dawton says most of the DBA’s training sessions centre around building designer-client relationships and project management.

Most dislike “flashy” websites

The report also shows that clients do not like “jargon” words such as “integrated”, “storytelling” and “digital”, and that the majority prefer design studios’ websites which are “functional” and easy to extract information from, rather than “overtly clever or flashy”.

Over 90% say they “hate” cold calls from design consultancies trying to pitch their services. Almost all clients claim that they do not follow design consultancies on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – but nearly all also said that they use LinkedIn.

Concerns with big and small consultancies

Key concerns around hiring a small-sized consultancy include that they may not be organised and may be “stretched”, while concerns around bigger consultancies include a “formulaic” approach and caring less about the specific client.

The report was conducted in 2016. The design consultancies which put forward their clients for the survey range in size from five to over 100 employees, and span different disciplines such as branding and digital.

Clients interviewed range across sectors including food and drink, fashion, government, education, finance, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, charities, automotive and tech and software.

Download the What Clients Think 2017 report for free and read it in full here.