NOELLE WEAVER: Right before I came to New York from Chicago several years ago I interviewed for a really cool job. It was for an up-and-coming restaurant chain that based its whole marketing concept around local events and sponsorship. It was a dream job because it meant free access to concerts, sporting events, fashion shows, street fairs and VIP clubs. Hard to pass up for a girl coming from the Midwest to the big city to ‘live a little’ right? I thought so too until they told me the salary. $20,000 plus the "perks" of the job.
Recently I’ve started to encounter quite a few new business calls and RFP’s from prospective clients who are reminding me of that job interview. Fantastic creative opportunities for well-known names. No pay. This week I even got a phone call from a prominent web site that not only asked for spec work, but kindly offered to pay money for the production [and only production] of our TV spot ‘should it be chosen.’ When I told them how our usual compensation structure worked, they reminded me how great it would be to have said client on our agency reel and wasn’t that worth the price of admission? [Ummm…no.]
“No work on spec” has long been the mantra of our industry but now, with the advent of a new wave venture-capital backed Web 2.0 companies and small agencies anxious to get noticed, the idea of expecting spec work is back in vogue. And for some of us, it becomes a real temptation when there’s such a great opportunity to build our agency’s portfolio and reel.
Many believe that speculative strategic thinking and creative execution are a reality in our business and I would agree that there are certain situations that warrant it [mainly competitive pitch situations where it’s boiled down to two agencies going head-to-head]. But I also believe that it’s still important to ask yourself a few questions before deciding to devote time and energy for free: Does your agency have the bandwidth to handle the extra work? Is the client just as interested in your process and thinking as the idea? During the development of the thinking and idea, is there collaboration between agency and client? Does the client value your input? What is the value of doing this work? And lastly, what is the likelihood of conversion to actual revenue?
I think many of you would agree that in general, spec work for free, without any guarantee of compensation is an extremely harmful practice. Requests for spec work are not only unprofessional and exploitative but can result in negative competitive practices and copyright infringement down the road. It’s also not recognizing the value or placing any worth on what we do as a business.
In a pitch situation, if you feel the answer is yes to the above questions, but still fear your work may never be bought, then don’t be afraid to have the prospective client sign a waiver in which it states that all work presented is the sole property of your agency until such time your agency is fairly compensated for the strategy, ideas and time.
If we as an industry give our services away, what is the likelihood that clients will ever compensate us fairly for our time, energy, ideas and most of all, for thinking about their business and its success?