Pitching new business in the advertising and public relations world is all about showing a client how an agency’s team thinks and whether they will be a good fit to work together. Everything the client sees first, the name of the agency, the design of the proposal, media buying or creative, are to show a prospective client just how your team thinks. This concept is called spec work, the unpaid work that is done as part of a bidding process. When you provide a prospective client a work sample, specific to their project, it shows how your agency thinks when posed with a problem, given almost no direction. What’s not to love?
However, you can’t open an industry publication without reading an article about how spec work is bad for an agency, advertising, and the human race in general. Here is why they are wrong.
No one ever changed the world coloring inside the lines
The only thing that gets in the way of great work is the client. Spec work removes that element, giving us a chance to work in a fantasy world where we can do anything we can possibly imagine. It’s critical for a prospective client to see what an agency would do if there were no rules, no budgets, and no board of directors keeping us in check. There is big difference between the agency who says, “let’s spend $2M make a super bowl ad, on location in china,” and the agency who says “let’s spend $2M on Google ad words.” Both agencies are the right fit for someone, and spec work lets the client make that decision before they sign a contract.
The biggest complaint against spec work is that it takes time and money. Of course it does, anything worth doing takes time and money. All this does is create a world where the team who wants it most has an advantage, and that’s a good thing. The people working hardest and investing the most deserve to win.
Good Ideas Can Win the Day
Chief Marketing Officers and Marketing Directors tend be people who play it safe, (if they didn’t, they wouldn’t work at an agency). This fact means if they are hiring on resumes and experience alone, they often make the safe pick: the biggest, oldest shop on the street. When you add spec work to the equation, when a decision is based on ideas rather than resume, you allow for a small upstart, a team of freelancers, or even a couple of kids in a college dorm room to compete with the big shops in a way that couldn’t be more American: who has the best idea?
Advertising should be a business where the best ideas, boldest creative, and smartest people win. Spec work makes sure that happens.