When a brand runs an agency review, they’re generally looking to answer the question: “Are these the kind of people I want to work with.” That means focusing on how they work, and how they work with you. Not whether they guessed right while being kept at arm’s length and working for free.
I believe it is neither in the client’s nor the agencies’ best interest to make spec creative part of the review. Spec creative generates only a superficial snapshot at best and one often judged on poorly defined or sometimes even irrelevant criteria.
All the agencies on your finalist list should be able to do the job creatively given the right input and guidance—they wouldn’t have made it that far if they hadn’t already demonstrated that. But actually experiencing the process offers much more insight than the spec creative results can.
So let me throw out a radical idea, instead of asking agencies to work for free…pay them. The best way to figure out what it’s like to work with them, is, well, to actually work with them The reason is really simple and compelling, the dynamic of the relationship changes when you are paying someone to do work for you. From the pitch pose of arms crossed, sitting back in their chair with a stone expression on their face, a paid project will have the marketer leaning forward and engaging with the agency in a collaborative mindset.
We’ve been successful in getting clients to agree to what we call a “Roll Up Your Sleeves” meeting. It’s a two day deep dive collaborative workshop with the goal of defining a strategy, timetable, budget and revenue forecast. Client gets tremendous value. It saves them tens of thousands of dollars and some six months of “normal” strategic planning work.
Beyond the practical, the real benefit for everyone is both sides have made a mutual commitment, and will give some penetrating insight into how the agency thinks and works, and most importantly give you a sense of what it would be like to work with them. Both sides will have only made a commitment for a limited of time and since it’s a project, it comes with an automatic “out” clause.
Most importantly, asking for spec is just plain wrong. This video puts the process into perspective. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=essNmNOrQto