When Clients call for Spec Work, is it Evil?

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Contributed by Chuck Meyst, Chairman & CEO AgencyFinder.com

To hear some agency principals talk, they think so.

And frankly we shouldn’t blame them. We’re talking about a component of the process known as the agency review. The idea is to invite and examine a sufficient number of candidate agencies and winnow the group down to 2-3 finalists. Those finalists will make “final presentations” and it’s there that spec creative rears its ugly head! The requirement calling for “spec creative” is an element of the infamous RFP and is like doubling down on evil. Let’s start with that RFP or Request for Proposal. As first client contact with randomly selected agencies, the invitation often begins like a warrant. Often the RFP “document” is the result of the client searching the Internet and grabbing a “template.” Without giving any real consideration to what they need in the way of an agency, and how they will  find agencies that fit those criteria, they begin their convoluted search. Searching using Google at best is worst. Agency websites range from single-page scroll-down templates themselves, to “kitchy” and “we’re different and we’re unique arguments and displays”. Good luck finding an agency website that reveals their employee count and even more bizarre, won’t provide their physical location or contact phone. Yet we should think that any agency bothering to have a website is looking for new clients, right?

Not all RFP’s are pervasive, but most tend to ask for more than necessary to begin exploring the possibility of a working relationship. Many include Gestapo admonitions like “If you communicate with any employee of our company, you will be removed from the review!” Or “Send 4 copies only. More than 4 will call for disqualification.” A silly and egregious way to begin what is meant to become a partnership. And be reminded, the client has to sell themselves to each agency as much as the reverse is true!

Each agency tells their story. In the best reviews, this can be done while the client is visiting the semi-finalists. That’s where an agency tour, the presentation of case histories, and the examination of past work takes place. Some clients think and are inclined to identify their winner after seeing agency work. Each agency understandably presents their best work but the devil is in the details. Does the agency admit that their client suggested the layout, headline, shot angle and copy? And does the client even think to inquire? Past work is only one element of the consideration set.

Now to final presentations. As the search consultant we are, we believe prospects who ask for spec work are looking to establish two things. 1. Does the agency understand their business (has your team been listening?) 2. Therefore can you produce something that demonstrates that? I agree with everyone that says it’s expensive; I agree it’s almost impossible to debrief a prospect sufficiently to respond with any degree of precision.

So what to do? We suggest to all clients they should identify a business they know fairly well (but completely different than theirs) and ask for a spec presentation based on that business. There’s more to it than that, but you get the point? Do the same for all players. In this way, the client will be able to witness the agency’s approach and process but both parties are one-step removed. And to the delight of any agency, the creative can’t be used by the client.

The new standard for “spec creative!”

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