Stop Working for Free!
The client’s most important and biggest assignment of the year is coming up. A product launch, brand renewal or expanding into a new market.
They gather all the information related to the topic in a 100 slide PowerPoint deck (of which 10% is relevant and 90% is nice to know) and hand it out to 3-4 different agencies. Deliverables required from the agencies consist of strategy, full 360 campaign plan and of course spec work of ads, POS material and whatever designs there might be. Basically, reputable agencies with a solid track record are asked to prove that they can do their jobs.
Agencies get to work based on that 100 slide PowerPoint - and without the full knowledge of clients’ desires - they have to do a bit of guessing as well. After a few weeks of working day and night without getting paid, the pitch team sees the client again for a one-hour meeting. Based on that, the winner is chosen.
With pitches, agencies tend to flex their creative muscles and bring in over the top ideas that are not very practical to execute. Also, when the client has not been involved in the process of making the spec work, a lot of the ideas end up not being suitable in a real situation.
So, a huge amount of the winning spec work will be trashed when the real grind starts. Makes sense, right?
Why does it function like this? Mostly because it has always been this way and people hate change. Marketers have been taught that the best way to choose an agency is to ask for free samples. Agencies, on the other hand, are afraid that they have no chance of winning the clients without spec work because some of the competitors will do it anyway.
As long as we as an industry don’t change collectively and stop free spec work for pitches, nothing will change. However, the collective mindset shift from all the agencies in the world is not easy, so here are two quick fixes for the problem.
1. If you want to see spec work in the pitching phase pay for all the participants. Even a small amount will do miracles.
2. My personal favourite: source a few agencies based on their previous work. Have a chat. Choose three of them. Ask what would be their strategic approach to your problem. Have a 2-3 hour meeting to discuss and bond with the teams. Choose the one you loved the most. Work together as one team. Create magic, make your business boom and finally celebrate at Cannes with a Gold Lion and a glass of rosé.
P.S, Check out my favourite approach on this issue by Canadian agency Zulu Alpha Kilo. They went out and asked for free work from other services.