The Spicks & the Specs of Spec Work

/ May 21, 2020/ Advice, artists, business, Commentary, graphic design, No!Spec, SME, Social Media, Strategy/ 0 comments

The spicks and the spec
Of the girls on my mind
Where is the sun
That shone on my head
The sun in my life
It is dead. . .

Bee Gees – “The Spicks and the Specks”

It is dead

Spec work is the best way to destroy an industry. Many would argue that “Speculative work” is the best way to get the top tier work from creatives. I’m here to tell you that it is not. It destroys trust between a worker and potential employer. As an employer, if you feel the need to ask for work from workers before they work, then you’ve destroyed the first step at building trust. A potential employee, who knows his worth, will understand that you are not interested in him as a contributor to building your business, but only as a cog in a machine that you can exploit and then discard. Spec work in the hiring of a professional should be highly discouraged and has no place in the modern business strategy..

What is spec work?

Spec work can be described as any kind of creative work, either partial or completed, submitted by designers to prospective clients before designers secure both their work and equitable fees. Under these conditions, designers will often be asked to submit work in the guise of a contest or an entry exam on existing jobs as a “test” of their skill. In addition, designers normally lose all rights to their creative work because they failed to protect themselves with a contract or agreement. The clients often use this freely-gained work as they see fit without fear of legal repercussion.

If you’d like to test a potential employee place them on a probationary period with a contract that states as such. No one should feel that their years or even experience up to this point (even at school) should be “tested”. If you don’t work well in the company you know it, the employer knows it and you part ways. This is basic human resource management. Employers doom themselves when they fail to work with an employee. They lose both the employee and their value within the working world. Yes, for when asked, the former employee will not recommend your company as a place to work.

a cartoon showing how a guy started a teespring store and doing spec work expected to make tons of money. He didn't.
via BradColbow.com

Recently a company did what I think is possibly the worst thing a company can do. It mass messaged a spec job to potential candidates (Can you believe over 100 of them?) To make matters worse the company followed up with a note saying “Oh we’re looking at foreign people too.” I received such emails and deleted them. This company isn’t interested in me as a potential candidate, they just want free work. Hundreds of people within the small content creator community I belong, received this email and took to social media to register their anger. Many complained that they had been duped by this company three or four years ago. They were asked to answer a brief for a “fictitious” company and present ideas and concepts in 3 days to the potential employer. Now it’s a contest for creatives to fight amongst themselves. Whatever good feelings this company had in the public eye amongst the creative content creator community, is probably gone. Everyone knows who it is, and I’m sure very few will choose to work with them in the future. My advice is that people not to work with this company, if this is how they chose to behave in the public eye.

I would also advise potential and existing clients to carefully consider how this company does business. If a company is willing to go to such strange tactics as a strategy, is this how they deal with client relations and work? Things to ponder. As a client.

Why this was done by the management is anyone’s guess, maybe it was a “spur of the moment in desperation” kind of thing. Nowadays with Covid 19, companies are finding it very hard to do work and pay their employees. They are on the verge of collapse. Desperation makes business owners do strange things in strange times.

No Spec but what you pay for

So what can you, as a business owner do if you’re looking for ideas? Just that: Say you’re looking for ideas. Ask creatives to come to the table and pay them for the work they present. I know it may sound strange, but you will actually get better work from creatives when they are motivated to do so. Contests don’t work. It’s been proven that contests actually give substandard work. Hiring people to do a specific job gives much better output. People need to feel part of the process and feel they are getting something for the work they do.

There are many resources for business owners to tap into to get good creative work. It’s not about “him or her being too expensive” We work with budgets. If you need this idea, we will work with you to get it done and we build relationships. No one is ever “too expensive” you pay for their worth.

If you need to test a person to see if they can do the work, then a project for a real client given within a contract basis is the only way to go. Give them the job and see what they can do. This is what you hire professionals for. Again, there is a level of trust that goes along with hiring a potential person.

“Everything is ah cost”

This is scrawled on the wall by the owner of my local vegetable shack. This is true. You want concepts and ideas, you have to pay for it. Even if you buy the creative lunch for a week while he is doing the job, that’s something. This may sound crass. But even prostitutes get paid. You don’t get that kind of service for free honey.

Any company or organisation that throws a “design contest” should reconsider. In fact I have not seen many logo design contents. I believe that they weren’t getting what they wanted or maybe they are just going to a $5 design website to get a logo now, who knows? That being said as a creative professional I advise other creatives and content producers NOT to engage in contests. Look for the higher hanging fruit. The companies that seek a partnership or are willing to work with you and pay you for the work you supply. The low hanging fruit of the spec jobs and design contests and the ”free work for exposure” will not help you get higher up. Fight for your work and stay the course. If not the work and the profession becomes mediocre, bland, safe and same.

In conclusion I SPECulate. . .

It may feel that paying $5 for a logo, or throwing a contest to find your next hire, might sound like a good idea. It’s not. Also mass messaging a small community of people who you ignored in the good times and now desperately need in the bad, is also not a good strategy. There may be people who will submit ideas, some of them may be good, but most, I guarantee, will be bad. So think about the ramifications of what you do before you do it. It goes without saying in the world of social media, creative communities and work ethics, you need to “look before you leap”. Oh and stop asking for free work. You won’t get it. Ask instead for help, state your position, be transparent and we will work something out. I like food. I could eat if you feed me, most of the time.

Ian runs this little blog called ReidDesigns, he’s been doing this since 2017 when he left his Associate Creative Director job at McCann Worldgroup. He currently freelances and does work for such people as CinemaONE, Intimate Affairs, Paria Publishing and BodyArt Caribbean, to name a few. He’s been asked to do so many tests in his life, but spec jobs ain’t one of them. Get in contact today and find out more of what he can do for you.

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