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A Pitch for Doing Away with Ad Agency Spec Work

By:   Date posted: May 15, 2012

ad-agency-spec-workAs the market continues to be as volatile as ever, I am slowly but surely coming to the realization that more and more agencies find it acceptable to do “spec work.” I, for one, am not a fan of pedaling my services for free with the hopes of landing a big account. I do understand the desire to go above and beyond for the right client with the intention of repeat business. What I don’t agree with is when big time clients and big time agencies continue to do this, making it almost seem like an industry standard.

I don’t want this article to sound “preachy,” as this is just my opinion, but I don’t think I am alone in this stance. One website that does a great job at fighting this movement is called AntiSpec. And judging by the outpouring of support, Mark Collins has done an incredible job of getting the word out. Throughout my career I have worked mainly for smaller agencies, so I know the struggles they experience with bringing in new business and staying afloat in this economy. It may even be considered defensible to do spec work when you are small and want to land an account that could give you a lot of repeat business, but at a certain point, you have to just say no to this idea and value your work more than that. All of my mentors have said over and over again to never devalue your work, anyone that wants free work from you isn’t worth working for. I couldn’t agree more with this statement, after all, we have to make a living too. The opportunity of repeat business doesn’t put food on the table or pay the rent.

Which brings me to my point, one example where I think this could be extremely damaging is the show called”The Pitch” on AMC. Now before you start defending the show and say things like, “Well they are obviously doing this to get their name out there,” or “Look at the exposure they are getting by being on TV and doing such creative work,” just hear me out. Let’s look at the premise of this show. To the vast majority of it’s viewers, this show is entertaining and clearly, the agencies ham it up for the cameras. But for the viewers that are IN the advertising/marketing industry, it’s a bit frustrating to watch. Client X (so far through two episodes have been Subway and Waste Management) engage Agencies Y and Z to duke it out bare-knuckle style (ok, not really) to win their business. Seems harmless enough, right? Not really, the two agencies in each of the episodes so far have been,or are pretty big, industry heavyweights (Episode 1: McKinney vs. WDCW Episode 2: The Ad Store vs. SK+G). My biggest problem is that I find it hard to believe that all four of these agencies are struggling for business and need to get their name out there in this manner.

You don’t become an advertising/marketing/design industry giant over night. It takes hard work, long hours and probably a little luck. So to see them resort to being on this show for whatever reasons, be it to boost their egos, get their 15 minutes of fame, etc., it’s a bit disappointing. I would even go out on a limb and say that this process is probably extremely out of the ordinary for them as far as landing new business is concerned. When would you ever be seated across the table from your competition when talking to a potential client? How awkward would that experience be for all three parties involved? A creative director from one of the agencies actually made a comment to the camera afterwards saying “You are fearful of asking a question because your competition is right there. You are giving the other agency information they may not have thought of asking for.” I won’t deny this is true, because he makes a great point, but at the same time, in order to achieve the goal of the project, there has to be questions asked and there has to be open dialogue with the client to make sure all their needs are being satisfied. That is the reason clients hire us, to think outside the box and achieve a goal. If you cut out the communication process and let an agency run wild, you run the risk of veering off track from the topic at hand.

I’m not really sure who is more at fault for this; AMC, the agencies, or the clients involved, but I think it is safe to say that the one suffering the consequences is the advertising industry itself.

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Anthony Fonte is a senior web designer and art director living in the Chicago area. He is passionate about what he does and is always on the look out for new design inspiration via Instagram or just wandering the streets of Chicago. Interact with him by following him on Twitter @af_design. He's also not above shamelessly self-promoting his own work, so be sure to check out his online portfolio anthonyfonte.com.

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