CreativityMedia ProductionStrategy & Marketing

Why Doing Work on “Spec” is a Good Idea

If you don’t have a solid track record of compelling work, then doing “spec” work (free work on speculation) is a brilliant way to get new business. In my career, nothing has been more effective for getting new business, than showing people past projects that I’m really proud of. I see other companies advertising, doing e-blasts, and spending lots of money on marketing, but for us, great work says it all.

But what if you don’t have any great work under your belt? 

It’s common in the advertising industry for new commercial directors to create spec commercials.  They just pick a product – Nike, Starbucks, Ford – whatever, and they spend their own time and money producing a commercial for that company or product.  Then, they can use that commercial to pitch themselves as directors.  It’s not unusual for me to see 3-5 spec spots on a new director’s reel.

Keep in mind I’m not suggesting you do free work for clients who can afford to pay. I don’t believe in taking advantage of people. But if your career hasn’t taken off yet – or has stalled – and you need some compelling demo material to show people, then consider producing some spec work. You’ll be spending your own time, money, and resources, but on the bright side, there’s no client to make any changes!

Nothing builds credibility for the future like great work from the past.

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  1. Good advice… although I’m not in creative and don’t have a reel to show… I’ve learned over the years how to “give enough” to get the work…including a capabilities study, past experience, knowledge and “some” direction…without giving away the store. It can be tricky. We do invest time, research, money and work when developing a new client, but the trick is at some point you need to STOP and say “enough” until you get a signed deal. As you noted we don’t work for free…I’ve learned the hard way and been taken advantage of when I should have said, “if you want to see more…its now time to pay up”!

  2. Yes! Great suggestion. When I went independent, I spent most of my time the first two years trading and doing free stuff for deserving organizations, but not compromising quality in the process. Money was slim, but the rewards were great. The best rewards rarely came from the beneficiaries of the services, but that’s OK. God’s giving laws still apply.

    I acquired one very large account having done a $30 side job for a member of one of the beneficiary churches.

    Another profitable account came about after I edited a free sample and pitched a concept for a company. They decided to “cut out the middle man” and do editing themselves instead of farming it out to me. I didnt get upset … just affirmed their choice of some nice equipment options. The ironic twist was that they spent $100K in equipment that nobody could operate, so they hired me as a contractor to do the same work.

    The sad part was that I watched some others try to break into the business at the same time, but refused to trade or do anything they didn’t get paid rate card to do. Most simply crashed and burned. 🙁

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