Spec creative. Should agencies do it? Why would we give away one of our core offerings? Can you win new clients without doing it?

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Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. This week, I want to talk to you about spec creative. So, I just spent four days
with the brilliant advisers at Mercer Island Group. They are an agency search firm. So, they do two things. One, they help brands find the perfect agency fit for themselves. And two, they counsel agencies on how to be better at pitching and winning new business. We spent four days teaching workshops together. And I’m telling you, they rocked it. But one of the questions that always comes up whenever I have Mercer Island Group in the room is, “Why do we have to do spec creative? I don’t believe in doing spec creative, I’m giving away something that I get paid to do” and here is their answer, and here is what I’ve been saying to agencies for a while. I get that it’s frustrating, I get that you’re giving away what you feel like is your best thinking, but the reality is, that many clients are very anxious about making the right pick. And anything that suggests to them that there is a question mark or some uncertainty or they’re not sure how you would take a strategy and actually translate it to creative, all of that gives them reason to not choose you. And the reality is, that some of the agencies you’re going up against are going to bring spec creative. And over and over and over again, I have heard stories from agency owners saying, “We were in the final four. We were in the final two. But we stuck to our integrity, we stuck to our guns and said we don’t give away what we sell, and we didn’t do spec creative.” I’ve never heard that agency say that they won. Never. Not once. Mercer Island Group says that when they’re in the back of the room with the clients, what the clients are saying is, “I really like them. The chemistry was great. But oh what if their creative team isn’t strong? We saw creative that was for other people, but we didn’t see how they would translate, how they go from strategy to insight to brilliant idea to actual execution for us.” So, here is the deal, if you want to win a piece of business and they don’t ask for spec, maybe it’s a gamble you’re willing to take, but if they specifically ask you to bring creative and you don’t, you need to know that you have invested all that time and all that energy in
the written response, in the three meetings beforehand, whether it was just over coffee at Panera, whatever it is, you need to know that odds are, you’re not going win that business. So, here is what I would suggest, be more judicious, be more choosy about who you go after. And if you’re going go after them, you have to go in it to win it. And that means unfortunately doing spec creative. But here is another thing that we talked about last week, which is you don’t have to do everything. Just give them a few things, an outdoor board, a storyboard, maybe mock up a video of a TV spot, show them what an email campaign would look like. You don’t have to blow out the whole campaign, but give them a very clear and easy-to-choose set of examples of how you’re bringing your thinking to life. And if they’re not a client that is worth of that kind of work, maybe you shouldn’t be pitching them in the first place. I’ll talk to you next week.

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