« Protecting Deadlines for Interactive Projects | Main | Can You Vote for My 2011 SxSWi Panel Idea? »

August 01, 2010


Graham Pilling

I'm a big fan of your blog, being as I am one of those strange folks who is both a designer and a project manager (and actually has a love for both).

Pardon my ignorance (as I don't have much experience with agency pitches) but isn't it typical to have something contractual in place to protect the design work your are pitching to a client?

It seems to me that the client (whether pressured by internal politics or not) stole your ideas/designs, and that the other design agency acted unprofessionally by producing work based on designs that clearly did not originate with the client.

David Sherwin

Hi Graham,

Thanks for your comment. I'll try to do my best to answer your question.

In an agency pitch, it depends on the rules set up by the client's procurement department and/or their search consultant. They can vary.

In the best-case scenario, each participant is paid a token fee that offsets at least a substantial portion of the incurred costs for each agency participating, in return for the rights to the work when the pitch is over. (In other words, it's treated as paid work.)

In other cases, the agencies involved in the pitch don't have explicit rights protection, so it must be negotiated. Each concept shared with a client includes bold copyright lines across every page, the work is brought in and shown only in person, and the work is taken from the client's premises afterwards so the client has to engage with them to gain access to the mechanicals/digital files to carry forward into full execution.

Sadly, even with these precautions and copyright in place, ideas are stolen, and the cost of pursuing what's right (protecting the work) is measured to be too expensive to one's reputation. This is the dirtier side of doing pitchwork—that privately or publicly pursuing a grievance is professional suicide—and one of the many reasons why I try to abstain from pitchwork at all costs. See here for further thoughts:


I've also been on the other side of the fence, where I've been on a team that won a pitch, and then in the kickoff meeting, the client has said, "I know I'm not supposed to show you this," and riffled through a set of concepts from another agency that they were contractually not allowed to show, but that they kept trying to describe to us to help shape a specific part of our ongoing project. In such situations, I've wanted to say, "You're right, you shouldn't have shown it to me." But at that point in my career, I didn't have the guts.

Graham Pilling

Many thanks for the candid and detailed answer David - very helpful!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Hello. I'm David Sherwin, a design leader who's written books that help people become better problem solvers and design thinkers. I’m co-founder of Ask The Sherwins LLC with Mary Payner Sherwin, a training and consulting firm dedicated to supporting the growth and development of design-driven organizations and communities.

This blog represents my personal thinking and may reference work that I’ve done with Ask The Sherwins and at frog, Lynda.com, and LinkedIn.

You can learn more about my personal writing, design work, and teaching at davidsherwin.com.

Feel free to search the over 370+ articles in the archive. Popular topics include creative process, design business, user experience design, and meditations on life and design.