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.

Spec 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?

This 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? 

It’s 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 [email protected].