Months ago, I heard a Design Observer interview with Jonathan Ford of Pearlfisher . The whole show is worth listening to, but there was a particular quote at around the 28 minute mark that struck me as significant enough to write down. Host Debbie Millman asks Ford to explain his firm’s policy on why they won’t ever do a free pitch, or free work. Here’s what he said:

“What we do has a value. Designers are skilled people…we don’t produce a service. We are not vendors or suppliers. I hate that supplier mentality…I remind our clients that design isn’t like anything else. Design adds real value. It can build your brand. It can differentiate you from everyone else. And in a world where everything’s gone topsy turvy, where advertising has been fragmented and there are whole new channels, design is still tangible and will define the way to the future for your brand. That has a value that needs to be respected.

If you work for free, you’re giving away what you do, and that’s just bad business sense. If you work for low fees, under your normal rate, you will lose money because you will be diverting a lot of time away from other clients to try and win a piece of business for a low fee, and that doesn’t make sense either.

It’s far more sensible just to say ‘No’ and get on with the clients that you do have and do great work for them and build the value there — and the relationship…Designers just have to learn to say ‘What I do is important.’”

While occasionally we donate work to good causes, I don’t think we’ve ever pitched an account with free creative. Ford succinctly explains why. Our clients expect us to focus on their paid work and to give them our full attention. Rightly so. And with so many working relationships that span decades, we think that makes sense for our clients and ourselves. What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments.