While you're in the business because you love your creative work, it's a fact of life that success comes to those who know how to sell themselves. That means getting your work out to prospective clients, understanding how contracts are put together, and knowing how the briefing process works.
Most of the time the process begins with the initial pitch. When you're starting out, a typical strategy is to target a long list of potential clients and to pass them a portfolio. Competition can be intense, but you can put yourself ahead of the rest by tailoring your initial pitches to your targets instead of sending out a one-size-fits-all initial contact, and also - of course - by being better than the others. Alison Lawn is the Art Director of New Scientist magazine, and explains how her experience works from the commissioning end. "I get a lot of emails, calls, and things in the post - it's around 10 to 15 a day - and I do feel that sometimes they haven't looked at the magazine. I prefer posted samples rather than emails, and I also go to galleries, views and degree shows. I've seen an awful lot of work, so I'm looking for a style that stands out. So there's originality, the ability to convey the brief as a concept, and we need speed too."
So from the artist's side, it seems that sending out initial pitches is mostly just a process of making a list of potential clients, then cold-calling them with samples. For corporate pitches, the experience seems to be similar, with the added complication that you'll usually be pitching face to face, often to a group. If you've already contacted potential targets, sooner or later you'll be sent a Request For Proposal (RFP), which can get you on a shortlist for a pitching meeting.
In the corporate world, this usually happens with face-to-face meetings which involve the client marketing team and sometimes other stakeholders. Winning a pitch isn't just about offering design options, but making it clear that you understand the client's market, their competition, and their future plans. This is one pitfall that new designers often fall into - it's as much about the process as the result, and being able to show that you can understand the client's point of view and fit in with their design process can be at least as important as being able to do the work itself.
Once you've won the pitch, you can start finalising the brief. Adie Flute is the Director of Deviate, a marketing and brand management consultancy. His experience of a recent brief to create a website for ITinc demonstrates how the process works. "We generally aim for companies with a marketing department because that makes it easier for us to communicate. This latest brief was goal-driven, with clear set points that needed to be achieved in terms of functionality. It initially came via email, and from there we spoke in person. The company presented us with a more in-depth brief, a potted history and where it could go in design terms and was one of the better ones we've had. What we really like is plenty of corporate background in terms of where they are, and where they want to go. The design side we prefer not to have emphasised so much. We'll give clients what they want, but it can be a struggle if they have preconceived ideas."
A key point is to manage pitches and briefs so that the information is all in one place. Dominic James at Deep explains the system and how it works for its designers. "Most of our designers are four to five years out of college so they don't have a huge experience of what clients are after. We brief by offering a clear background on the client, competitive markets and competitors so they can see what they'll be up against, and sometimes also pointing designers in some stylistic directions. One of the key things is my interpretation of what the client wants. We have brief sheets which provide an overview to tie it all together. When I get back from a meeting I put this together with requirements and details from the meeting. This can go to the designer and the client for feedback, so everyone knows where they are."
It's the law
The final stage of the pitching process is the contract. In an ideal world the contract is almost a formality that falls out of the briefing process. It's the brief's more formal twin and will detail exactly what you'll be expected to deliver, when, and for how much. There may be penalty clauses for late delivery, and an explanation of what happens if the work is rejected. The biggest issue here is clarity - beware any contract that's ten pages long and needs expert legal advice - and fine print. The key points are:
Delivery - This needs to be clear so that everyone knows when delivery has been completed. Otherwise the design process can go on indefinitely. It's not unusual to include a set number of iterations, on the grounds that if the client isn't happy after, say, five attempts, they almost certainly don't know what they want. Delivery will usually include a deadline time and date and perhaps also a delivery method.
Rights - These define what you're supplying, and under what licensing terms. The standard deal is 'first use exclusive rights'. This means you own the copyright to your design work, but you're granting a first use licence to the client, and only the client - which means no one else will be using the same images. For corporate branding work, it's more usual to sell the design outright, because it makes no sense for a company's brand to be owned by a designer. It's worth making sure you'll still be allowed to use the work as a case study in your own promotions.
Term and territories - How long, and where in the world? These two items on their own could take up an entire feature, but in outline they define how long rights are assigned for, and where in the world they can be used. Details will differ according to the kind of campaign or project involved. Ensure that any international projects include details of the territories to be covered.
Payment - When, and how much? Stage payments may be specified for larger projects, in which case payment will be made on completion of each stage, defined with its own delivery schedule and specification. Licensed royalties are also covered here. The options include a one-off payment for all rights for a given project, or a percentage royalty on individual items that are sold by the licensee and feature your design.
Penalties and kill fees - If it's late or it doesn't do the job, will you still be paid? Penalties are controversial, and this is one area where you have some room to try to negotiate yourself a better deal. The real issue here is whether or not the client trusts you. Ideally they should be confident you can do the work before you get to the contract stage. If they're not, you may need to go back a couple of steps and find out what's wrong.
Format - Will there be a single illustration, a design guide, a set of marketing materials, a logo, a website, or something else? This may specify a delivery format such as EPS, PDF, and so on.
Most of the legalese in a contract will be standard cut-and-paste text, because it's rare for a project to be completely unique. Although legalese can look scary, it's mostly just condensed and pedantic English which can be deciphered with a bit of effort and without a lawyer. Always read a contract before signing it, and check for the key points we've listed here. If there's anything you don't like, or don't understand, it's usually fine to ask for clarification or changes - within reason. As we've explained, this final stage will usually follow on naturally from a brief, so unless you're dealing with outright crooks, it shouldn't become controversial. Once it's agreed, all that's left to do is sign it - and get on with the work.
Check out these websites offering useful advice!
Putting together a design brief. Don't forget that if you don't like what you get, you can sometimes renegotiate it to bring it closer to the ideal.
More on design briefs. As the designer, you can use checklists like these to ask your client for the information they need to give you.
A great resource site with a guide to what you should look for in a contract, with samples and examples.
If lawyers scare you, you can use templates like those found on this site - but check to make sure that they're based on local, not US, law definitions and standards.
A useful online feature about how to handle the pitching process.