“A pitch is a grab bag” – Interview with Tobias York on the pitch codex

Pitches and tenders are expensive and time-consuming for creative agencies. In addition, they are usually unpaid, non-transparent and endanger intellectual property. For many, however, they are the only way to land new contracts and clients. That is why the “Pitch Code” initiative was founded. It is backed by 20 major reporting agencies that are calling for better and fairer pitch conditions. If the criteria formulated there are not met in a tender, the initiative refuses to participate. What the initiative has announced is already a reality for small agencies, as they would not be able to survive otherwise. We spoke to Tobias York, managing director of Berlin-based creative agency I LIKE VISUALS, about the pitch culture, the code and love affairs.

“A pitch is a grab bag” – Interview with Tobias York on the pitch codex


Tobias York – © I LIKE VISUALS

Pitches are as much a part of a creative agency’s daily routine as dog excrements on Berlin’s sidewalks. And they are also just as unpopular. Because they cost a lot of money and time, which in turn is money, but do not guarantee any revenues, since they are usually unpaid and logically only the winning agency receives the budget. This can cause financial difficulties for smaller agencies in particular. In addition, many tender offers are not transparent, do not specify a budget and do not protect the intellectual property of the applicants.

An initiative consisting of the 20 largest reporting agencies of Germany, Austria and Switzerland is trying to change this and has created the “Pitch Code”. Anyone tendering for a pitch is expected to adhere to the minimum standards set out in the code. If this does not happen, the participating agencies themselves undertake not to take part in the tender.

The code sets out criteria that is to be regarded as the standard for a future pitch culture. These include briefing, scope, transparency, intellectual property and fees. Tobias York is managing director at the Berlin agency I LIKE VISUALS and is very familiar with the problems addressed in the code. That’s why the agency for moving image, branding and campaign building has had to find its own way of dealing with tender offers and pitches for several years now.




© Pitch-Kodex

A key point is the cost of a pitch. The Gesamtverband der Kommunikationsagenturen (GWA) puts these at an average of 18,000 euros. Although fees are sometimes paid here, they are still not the rule. And even if they are paid, they never cover the entire cost of the pitches, leaving the agencies sitting on at least part of it. For Tobias, non-remunerated pitches are not a criterion for exclusion, “but we take a close look at whether we want to invest time and money. Particularly with larger pitches, we quickly see how many thousands of euros can accumulate when a team of four to five people spends two weeks working on specify the idea. And many customers simply forget that we always have to prepare a pitch with all existing customers breathing down our necks.”


The Pitch Code therefore calls for fair compensation, as it improves the quality of pitches, but also motivates companies to provide better briefings and more preparation, as Eloy Barrantes from participating agency nexxar explains in an Interview with PresseBox. This should minimize the risk on the side of the agency and create more transparency. Currently, many tender offers lack important information such as the project budget. However, agencies need this information to calculate their pitches so that they do not run the risk of slipping into the red, even if they are successful. The costs of the pitch must therefore be calculated within the budget.


© Marvin Meyer

In public tender offers in particular, this calculation is made even more difficult by the fact that companies will ultimately opt for the cheapest offer, as Tobias explains to us: “Companies don’t want the best service, they want the cheapest.” Accordingly, the number of participating agencies can be high. The Pitch Code calls for more transparency from the side of the company  here. If this is not given, the agencies of the initiative do not participate in such a tender offer in order to increase the pressure on the companies.

I LIKE VISUALS no longer takes part in such public tenders. The creative agency has had a quasi internal pitch code for several years, without which they would not have survived at all, according to Tobias.

“We had to adapt in this area in order to be able to make decisions at all about which tenders we participate in and which we don’t. We could accept a request every day. Simply participating doesn’t help, because then everyone has a lot to do, but in the end you don’t make any money. And to be honest, we’ve found that we don’t win any tenders if we don’t adhere to our own code.”


This code is similar to that of the initiative. It calls for transparency, direct contact persons, and multi-stage pitch processes in which a personal relationship and trust can develop. However, it differs in one important respect. Instead of simply presenting companies with the fact that things have to be done differently from now on, I LIKE VISUALS tries to pick them up and make them aware of their own working reality. “I notice,” says Tobias in the interview, “that customers find it very difficult to understand our services and what is involved. In the end, a person from outside the field decides on the pitch, and you have to show them how our world works.”

The Pitch Code is a good thing, says Tobias, because it makes the issue accessible to a broad public and creates points of contact that can also have a positive effect on communication with the company’s own customers. In the end, however, personal relationships and mutual trust count more than public pressure. That’s why I LIKE VISUALS has been organizing the “Work better together”-Workshop for several years, to which they invite both existing and potential new customers free of charge. In this way, the agency can better respond to the needs of its clients, and vice versa, they can learn to understand the agency’s everyday work. I LIKE VISUALS gives the workshop to the participating companies because they believe that both sides and the end product benefit when both sides talk to each other more.

“LIKE IN A LOVE Attachment

“Especially in the beginning, you need peace and time to find out if it fits in terms of content and people, but also workflow. It’s like a love attachment, where it’s insanely important that you get to know each other properly at the beginning in order to be able to build up a basis of trust. A pitch is simply not suitable for that. A pitch is a grab bag.”

I LIKE VISUALS very rarely reaches into this grab bag. And when they do, personal contact, transparency and ultimately trust are basic requirements for participation. Public tender offers are thus no longer an option per se. “We want to work in partnerships and be able to discuss things honestly. That’s our credo, and we tell clients that right at the beginning of a request.” What the Pitch Code brings to the public tableau has long been reality for smaller creative agencies: “The bigger a company, the greater the joy about the Pitch Code. But smaller agencies like us have been going down this road for a long time.”

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