June 1, 2009

The pain and folly of speculative creative

Spec Creative

For all you prospective clients out there, we at AB&C would love to have you as a client. We really would. And please, give me a call at any time.

Or, feel free to include us in your RFP process. Just one little thing about that RFP process…

For the record, I’ve been doing new business development at AB&C for several years now, but before that I was on the client side of the business. So I’ve been involved in my fair share of RFP processes. Over and over again, search consultants or “agency experts” told me I had to include a speculative creative project in the RFP process.

So I did. And I was dazzled by the pretty pictures and the witty concepts.

And when it came time to put together the actual campaigns, none of those concepts ever saw the light of day.


Because speculative creative is just that – speculative. It’s the “theoretical rather than demonstrable” (thank you, Webster’s).

Keep in mind that a well-executed marketing plan – part of that being the creative execution – is rooted in an effective strategy. An effective strategy is formed when two trusting partners share and discuss a volume of relevant background information, digest it together and formulate a deliberate, studied approach.

Yet for years, spec creative – essentially a marketing platform created in a complete vacuum – has been standard practice in the ad industry.

Do you want your campaign results to be theoretical or do you want them to be productive?

Most likely, the latter.

The truth is, speculative creative sucks. Agencies hate it because they feel it devalues the design process. But more important, because good agencies value the role that strategy plays in the creative process, it puts them in the position of compromising their principles. Either way, you’re left with work that may look good but will most likely never hit the marks that you’ll need it to.

A blogger once wrote that decisions based purely on aesthetics are usually bad ones because of their subjectivity. There’s something to this. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to test your potential agency’s mettle.

Challenge a prospective agency to elaborate on its strategic process. Investigate who on the proposed account team is responsible for research and strategy. And ask to see examples of work in which a strategic direction led to creative execution that led to measurable results.

On top of that, never shy away from asking an agency to produce for you what they feel to be their most compelling creative pieces.

Or you can skip the RFP process and try us out for size… just sayin’.