Let’s Talk About Spec, Baby!

By Jamie Rodriguez on Aug. 31, 2020

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Spec work:

two words that strike fear into the hearts of creative agencies everywhere.

Many promising engagements have been sullied by the last line of an RFP with beat-around-the-bush verbiage that goes something like this: “We’d like to see an example of how you envision this campaign coming to life.” Shudder. And things were going so well!

While roundly rejected by AIGA and The American Advertising Federation, spec work requests just refuse to die. And look, I get it, you want to take the car for a spin before you buy it; you want to taste the wine before you commit to the whole bottle; you want to sleep in the house before you move in. (Is that even possible?) But for myriad reasons, soliciting spec work isn’t just disrespectful to your prospective partners—it’s also bad for your business.

So, fasten your seatbelts: we’re grabbing our wooden stake, silver bullet, and holy water, and putting an end to spec work, once and for all. Here are four reasons spec work should return the grave—and stay there.

1. IT DOESN’T FOLLOW OUR PROCESS

Not to be inflexible, but we have a process that governs all of the work we output. We’ve spent ten years carefully creating a method for achieving the best work and results for our clients. Is it flexible? Of course, but that flexibility usually entails MORE information and collaboration, not less. At Tilted Chair, we’re big believers in focusing on the process as a means of achieving results. And building a campaign or design off of a PDF—no on-boarding, no stakeholder workshops, no objective-setting—isn’t focusing on the process.

2. HALF-ASSED ENGAGEMENTS BREED HALF-ASSED WORK

After all, to fully engage with our clients, we need time together. And most spec briefs are standalone documents that can’t possibly replace deep, in-person—or in the case of 2020, virtual—collaboration. Spec briefs don’t allow for any kind of immersion or meaningful collaboration, which means the whole concept is half-assed. And you know what that leads to.

3. IT DOES A DISSERVICE TO OUR PAYING CLIENTS

At the end of the day, the checks keep the doors open. Not promises of checks, or prospective checks, but real, paper checks. (And ACH deposits for all of you angels out there.) There’s only so much time in the days, weeks, and months, and when we take on speculative creative work, we sacrifice time we could be spending on solving the problems of our paying clients. How is that fair?

4. IT SETS A BAD PRECEDENT

If we’re willing to sacrifice paying client work to do your spec work, doesn’t that mean we’ll do the same to you once you become a paying client? Do you really want that?

5. YOU HAVEN’T PAID FOR IT

Plain and simple. We’re in the business of creating commercial culture and art, and you don’t get that until you pay for it. Intellectual property is serious business, and to get the best, you’ve got to be willing to invest in the best.

Now, there are those who might retort, “What about business development? Do you get paid for that?” No, of course not. And that’s okay, because relationship-building is a part of the deal. In fact, it’s pretty much the whole deal. But investing in relationships is different than committing the actual time, resources, and energy it takes to do the work. We’ll build relationships all day long. We’ll even give away free ideas and insights that come up in discovery discussion. But when the dreaming turns to doing, we enter the realm of the inappropriate and ineffectual.

And that’s a place that nobody wins.

Have a project and some budget? Get in touch with us today.