Beg, Borrow and Steal – Or ‘How Pitching Fails Artists’

In graphic design, there’s a great debate around the practice of putting a pitch to a client. In effect, you’re asked to work up your ideas in rough and then put them forward for consideration. It’s a lot of time and effort, and there’s always a worry that a client will like your ideas but not your costs and take the idea without paying. It would, of course, be almost impossible to prove that had ever happened.

Even if they don’t steal the idea, the process itself gives the client something for free.

“Clients derive a substantial benefit from being given – at no cost – a range of responses to their brief. This helps them to make … their final choice” says Adrian Shaughnessy in ‘How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul’, “and in the case of unscrupulous clients (of which there are fewer than most designers imagine) it affords them an opportunity to steal ideas. In other words, clients are receiving a benefit they do not pay for.”

This morning, in The Argus, I read about a proposal that we had put forward to Brighton and Hove City Council, for a project in one of the city’s junior schools. Well, the trouble was, I read about another group of artists who’d spent a week working on something very similar to the proposal our artists had spent days working on.

“A large-scale, multi-media, interactive installation in the school’s gym,” we’d proposed, “Taking visitors on an imagined journey along Brighton beach” with “Large-scale works on recycled cardboard, a painted canvas backdrop representing the sea, horizon and sky, and old fashioned carousel fairground rides”.

And the school got “cardboard carousels” and “a view of the seafront”, where parents could walk down an “artificial promenade”. I’m not suggesting that the individual artists involved stole our proposal, but I’d be very surprised if our ideas weren’t discussed by the school and the city council, and they used that knowledge when working up the ideas that another group of artists had pitched.

Shaughnessy suggests that “by saying no to pitching, studios and individuals are taking a principled stance – they might also be missing out on opportunities, but the respect they get from taking such a stance outweighs the occasional loss of business.”

He has, I think, a very valid point. I shall be thinking hard on this, and you may well see the Revolutionary Arts Group adopt this ethos. Could we persuade other arts groups to come with us, and concentrate on building relationships with each other and with clients rather than going into battle to win work? Now that would be an interesting journey.

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