The Case for Requesting Spec Creative in RFPs

Say No To Spec Work. Say Yes To Conversations & Collaboration

I met Chris Cavanaugh in March of 2005 when we were doing some DMO work in North Carolina, and we have stayed in touch over the years. Based in Ashville, Chris has over 20 years of tourism experience and has spent the last 10 years working with a wide variety of tourism clients as a strategic planning and marketing consultant. According to his website, “He is most proud of his versatility, professionalism, and ability to listen to clients and their stakeholders.” Chris is widely recognized for his ability to see through the daily minutiae which clouds the vision of even the best manager and to identify strategic opportunities.

We were having a side discussion about the agency pitch/evaluation process recently at a conference, and I asked Chris to share his thoughts on why speculative (spec) creative should not be a part of the agency evaluation process. I am passionate about this subject and agree with 100% of what Chris has to say in the following video; so it’s easiest to just listen to this 3-minute video for yourself.

Why speculative creative does not have a place in the marketing agency evaluation process


If you would prefer to read about our exchange or share a quote from the video, please see the transcription below.

Video Transcript

I think that there are oftentimes, real, very genuine motivations on the part of a prospective client to ask for spec creative as a demonstration of the agency’s capabilities. I think that is inherently flawed for three reasons.

One, it’s incredibly time-consuming and expensive for an agency to do that, and you’re going to inherently limit the pool of interested agencies by asking for that as a requirement.

I think two, often times, the prospective client, particularly if its a committee, and oftentimes in this world you’re dealing with a committee, search committee or agency committee, and if you’re dealing with a committee there will be individuals who will nitpick that creative to death without understanding any of the motivation or strategy behind it.

And I think the third reason that it’s quite frankly a bad idea, is that the prospective agency can’t possibly know everything that they need to know to develop a strategically-based, effective campaign or piece of creative in what’s typically a short amount of time given for that agency to do their work. They don’t know enough about you as a client. They don’t know enough about what is influencing your market potentially in order to develop an effective piece of creative that can be used to evaluate the agency. That’s just inherently not fair.

What you really want is insight into how the agency thinks. You want them to present a relevant case study. Yes, it’s great if it’s in the same category, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same category. What you want is insight into how they think, how they develop their strategy, the process they use for creative. Do they use research? How do they go about testing creative if there’s evaluation involved? What’s the process they use for determining what media to select? That’s what you really want to know from an agency. Not whether or not they can produce a piece of creative in a very short amount of time that may or may not be effective.

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