Why Speculative Creative Devalues Ad Agencies

Why Speculative Creative Devalues Ad Agencies

Speculative creative work has long been a part of new business pitching in the ad agency world. It is also one of the most hated requirements in requests-for-proposal, especially in this era where prospects think they can demand your ideas by right, even if they award the account to a competitor. How is that a win for your agency?

That is why Second Wind counsels against doing speculative creative presentations. The best agencies recognize that it is a losing proposition, and not just because too many companies demand full rights to your work without compensation. That is unacceptable—never give away your valuable creative ideas for free.

Decide Now Whether to Do Spec’

It is a new business pitch best practice to have a thoughtful discussion of whether to ever do speculative creative for a pitch or RFP. Bring together your key agency people and talk plainly about why you disagree with spec’ as a tool for winning new business, and ask for their feelings on the topic. Make sure you explain the economics of giving away great ideas for free, and the potential harm to your agency brand. 

Next discuss what factors would need to be in place for you to set aside your choice to refuse spec’ requests. There may be (very) rare occasions when spec’ work may be called for, as when sufficient information about a specific issue has been presented and the agency feels it has a great solution. But how often does that happen? Another case would be that the prospect is a business you have long wanted a shot at winning, and you feel you can make a case for the business only by proposing a great idea. Set firm guidelines for these extreme cases, i.e., the prospect must meet all other new business qualifying criteria, must be on your A-list of desirable prospects, etc.

But if you decide spec’ is just a bad idea, draft a short policy statement to include in your presentations or RFP responses. See our sidebar for one agency’s preferred approach to spec’ creative.

How Spec’ Reduces Perceived Value

Perhaps the most important reason to never do spec’ work is the damage it can do to the perceived value of your agency and its work. If you willingly lay ideas on the table without any promise of remuneration, let alone a relationship, you essentially tell prospects you are desperate for work, easily gulled by client demands, and lacking in confidence and self-respect. You signal that you are less than the high-quality strategic partner you claim to be in your promotional materials and on your website. You make your agency’s claims less believable.

Does any of that sound like good positioning for your agency brand?

Say NO to speculative creative work as part of new business pitches. Better yet, choose the companies you want to pitch, pursue them aggressively, and offer them strong strategic proposals… and skip spec’ RFPs altogether. 


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