eTip #46

Why Spec Work Is Bad for Everyone

If you have worked in the marketing industry long enough, you have either been asked to perform speculative (spec) work or have asked a creative agency or designer to do it. Spec work is basically insights, ideas, or solutions developed at no charge* in hopes of winning a project or an account.

Spec work typically ends up to be a lose-lose situation, not just for the creative agency doing the spec work, but for the prospective client as well. Here are some reasons why spec work is bad for everyone:

1. Lack of a Strategic Foundation
When asked to perform speculative work, the creative agency is often unable to spend the time engaging in research and analysis to produce solutions that are well thought-out and strategic. Therefore, the solutions are merely verbal and visual in nature and perhaps “clever” to demonstrate the creative thinking. The truth is, the creative process requires more than creative ideas and should be accompanied by strategies and research.

2. Limited Resources = Limited Solutions
Because of the limited time and efforts a creative agency is able or willing to invest in the solutions, the outcome is often not the best solution for the assignment. How is this bad for the creative agency’s and client’s side? The creative agency is not putting the best foot forward demonstrating their capabilities and the client is not seeing what the agency is truly capable of.

3. Spec Work Is Not Free – It Costs!*
Ironically, doing speculative work is not free, at least not for the creative agency. In fact, it costs money because the creative agency has to set aside personnel, time, and energy devoted to performing the spec work. As a result, other paid work suffers because of this, and a price is paid – by the creative agency and the paying clients.

4. It Demoralizes the Profession
Spec work done as “pitches” demoralizes our profession and industry as a whole. The same goes for contests that call creatives to submit ideas or designs in return for recognition or a small reward. Are doctors and lawyers asked to perform speculative work or contests in order to win clients or patients? The creative agencies and designers who participate in spec work are just as guilty as the clients who ask for it. Ultimately, the creative agencies are responsible for ending this practice and educating clients on it.

Using spec work to find a creative agency or to win a client does not benefit either one. Check out this eTip on a related topic on “How to Hire Creative Services”. For a more in-depth discussion on spec work, visit NO!SPEC.


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