Not So Great Ex“SPEC”tations

It’s a
subject that has probably been debated in ad agencies since the beginning. And
it’s quite an industry conundrum – the request for “spec” creative.

On one
hand, the opportunity for an agency to show its creative skills and
communications prowess to a potentially exciting client seems too good to be
true. “If they can just see what wondrous things we can do for them, they’ll
have no choice to sign us as their agency of record,” one might think.

On the
other hand, one could argue that spec work drastically diminishes the
importance of collaboration between the agency and the client, and the end result
could be an amalgamation of hit-and-miss “spec”ulation.

requests are often filled with general parameters to give each participating
agency a “fair” foundation within the process. That leaves the agency to
abandon normally applied discourse and infuse assumptions that will hopefully
be aligned with what the client has in mind. Ultimately, the client misses out
on complete insights, more holistic solutions development, and most importantly,
agency chemistry that could really make a difference.

But what
if the potential client just wants to see the agency’s creativity?

fact is that in this day and age of digital access, clients have more than
ample access to extensive portfolios, case studies, and awards announcements
from which they can extract enough data to make decisions about the ability to
do creative.  So in addition to the
pitfalls of non-collaborative work, the spec process also requires agencies to
freely give up their magic potions – creativity, strategy, and subject matter
expertise. And what other professional business is asked to give away tens of
thousands of dollars in free work as an audition? 

also interesting to note that in my experience, less than five percent of spec
work ever gets used – which, again, suggests what an incredible waste of
resources the process is.

If the
true goal is to find the right agency partner, we need to pioneer better ways
of evaluation they will provide more effective use of everyone’s time and
effort. Instead of one-sided presentations, what if creative workshops took
place? What if both client and agency team members got together and dialogued,
problem-solved, and brainstormed as an energy check? This would more
authentically project the reality of day-to-day interaction and set more
realistic expectations.

For a glimpse of PAVLOV’s creative portfolio, visit, or for more information on our creative process, visit To find out how PAVLOV can help you with your creative needs, email