Zulu Alpha KiloI am varying from my usual format to share something I found very funny and highly relevant to the business of digital media. I recently came across this video from an ad agency in which they effectively mocked the ad industry’s  practice of expecting work on spec, also known as working for free.

The ad agency, Toronto-based Zulu Alpha Kilo, released the video on November 2 and it has already garnered over 1 million views. The video suggests that no other businesses operate this way, but as developers we know that at least one more, ours, does.  (By the way my writer and artist friends would say they are also often asked for proposals that require quite a lot of creative output before ever even getting the hint of a paying job. And they would be right.)

“Architects don’t give away their blueprints. Diners don’t fork out free meals. Personal Trainers don’t sign over their intellectual property on spec. This video pokes fun at the speculative creative bidding process in new business pitches. We believe there’s a better way for agencies and clients to find the perfect match.” Zulu Alpha Kilo

As a developer responding to RFPs, it’s always hard to know how much, if any, time should be put into spec work in order to win a project. As an experienced developer one often feels like one’s reputation and previous work should speak for itself. However there are times when you can understand why the client wants to see a little more. For the client, getting it right is of the utmost importance and it may be their one shot to make their product, backend, or service.

So how much spec work should a developer put into winning a project?   I know we all have different feelings about this question, so here are my thoughts.

Generally speaking, I do think that experience should speak for itself. But like everything in this world nothing is ever completely black and white.

If a client has worked successfully in the past with a developer or the developer comes highly recommended by a client’s trusted colleagues, I don’t believe spec work should be necessary.  Yes,the developer needs to submit a solid proposal, outlining its understanding of the project, proposed approach, milestones, budget etc. and, if the developer wants to  submit more, by all means it should.  But more should not be a requirement.  (Any client is free to ask for optional items, just as any developer is free to submit them.)

If, on the other hand a developer is a relative unknown, but nevertheless has a strong portfolio, a client may be wise to take a baby step before putting his/her toe in the water.

How can this be done?  Client and developer agree up front on a small engagement in which the client gets a chance to see what the developer brings to the party and how the developer interacts with client’s team, and client compensates the developer for the work.  Ideally the client and developer can agree up front that the small initial fee can be factored (deducted) into the final project bid, assuming the developer wins the project.  This seems to me to be fair to both parties.

in the case where a developer is a complete unknown, perhaps inexperienced, then some spec work in order to win a project is probably a reasonable request.

The client has a lot to lose if the developer does not perform and the newbie developer has a lot to gain if it wins the project. It can be frustrating to have to prove yourself (especially if you have an excellent school portfolio to show) but at the beginning, we all have to go the extra mile to begin to make headway in our chosen careers.

What do you think?  I know many of my readers are experienced producers, developers, artists, writers. and clients, too.  It would be great to get varied perspectives. Please share your point of view and check out this hilarious video.

Post a comment

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

  • LC

    I’ve been burned by spec work more than I’ve benefited from doing it. Even developing a proposal in response to an RFP can be the equivalent of spec work. Some prospective clients see the process as a way to gather free information to craft a project without the vendor(s) who submitted proposals.

    Proposals require significant research and crafting. Of course a client shouldn’t have to pay to learn how a team works and what they charge. But they should have to pay to get specific solutions to their problems. I think your concept of charging a small agreed-upon fee for spec work walks the tightrope in a way that’s fair to both parties.