When trying to win an RFP or to bring on a new client, sometimes an agency is asked to showcase what they can do. That is reasonable; sometimes an agency can have and provide great ideas, but could potentially fail in execution.
What the rub is, though, is how the agency is compensated if and when the agency does provide work for the client to see. Is it fair that the spec work is free? Should the costs and resources associated with the work be counted as the cost of winning (potential) business?
More than that, is the spec work done by the agency now owned by the client? Or is the spec work allowed to be used for portfolio purposes if no payment or official transaction is done?
Throughout the years, calls for the end of spec work have echoed within the advertising industry. It is obvious that if spec work could be paid work, everyone would be for it. No one would rather work for free. However, small agencies and freelancers, we are sure, are afraid to raise their voices for no spec work lest they shut the door on potential bids; bids that will keep their agencies and employees afloat.
Note that this concept is different than the online startup model of giving something away for free first in order to develop a loyal base that will pay later. That startup concept is more consumer-facing, not quite the concept we are discussing here.
So if spec work is consuming, and like Zulu Alpha Kilo's CEO says, is bad for everyone's bottom line, why don't we just take a stand and say no to it? Why does “free” in the client's mind equate to “efficient”?
It is clear that better ideas will come with paid work. Agencies’ personnel will care more. Also, giving shops credit when work is accepted, or even protecting the shops when big ideas are presented, can help encourage creativity. Free hinders innovation.
Let's find a way to end free spec work. It's about time.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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