BusinessWeek columnist Steve McKee dishes out a list-o-ten for businesses picking a new shop.
Strangely, free booze, hookers and swag didn't make the list.
4. Don't ask for—or even entertain—speculative work. Speculative campaigns are the bane of the agency business. Spec campaigns are like steroids, artificially inflating the appearance of an agency and often overstating its true capabilities.
It's easy to think that by asking for speculative work you're getting true sample of the agency's work, but you're not. The timeline is artificial, the discovery process is shortchanged, and in the excitement of a new business pitch an agency can focus disproportionate resources on the task, something unlikely to happen in an ongoing relationship. It's a dirty little secret of the agency business that freelancers are often brought on board to help develop spec work—freelancers nowhere to be found once the agency is awarded the account.
But the biggest reason not to ask for spec work is that the best agencies—the ones you really want—won't do it. They don't have to simply because their services are in demand. The more an agency is willing to jump through speculative hoops for you, the more you should be suspicious. If they're ready to give away their work there must not be a very good market for it.