Spec Has to ConnectRecently finished an agency search for two food companies and something very interesting happened in both final pitch presentations.

Usually when I run searches for clients, whether it be a hospital search for Mercy Health, a spirits search for Sazerac, or a B2B search for Legrand, I tell all the finalist agencies the same thing:  “take your final pitch presentation as far, or not as far as you want”.

I never want to pressure agencies to present comp creative.  It requires a lot of an agency in terms of time and resources to deliver the goods.

Spec Creative Isn’t Always a Good Thing

Many think that…”wow, the agency did spec creative…they must really want this business and they are really showing us how they think”.

I say “yes” to the first statement, but not so much all the time with the second.  “Yes”, they probably do want the business and it’s admirable that they will go to all ends to show a marketing client that they will pull out all the stops to show that love…but often, that love is somewhat misdirected love.

It Has to All Connect

In the last two searches we ran – both for food clients in the Midwest – the winning agency was the agency that did not present spec creative but rather the agency that shared their strategic thinking and presented creative/strategic platforms that they felt were potentially the right direction to carry the brand.

In one case, the agency outlined their analysis of: 1) The Company and its situation; 2) The Brand and its opportunities and challenges; and 3) The Competitive landscape and the obstacles and openings that it presented.

They took that analysis and very beautifully tied their creative/strategic platform directions into that thinking, so that the ideas they shared made complete sense to the client.  It was logical, well informed, and very creative in its manifestation as a platform.

At the end of their presentation they presented a case study of their past work (because they were asked to prior to the presentation) and in this case study they were able to showcase their ability to understand and execute in an integrated fashion.

All Suit, No Substance

The other two agencies did a very nice job of showing their range of thinking creatively and did a very nice job of showcasing how they would carry their creative into different media platforms – thus giving the marketing client the confidence they knew and understood integration and how to take their brand to a sound executional level.

Problem was…nothing was grounded.  The ideas were clever and creatively interesting, but we couldn’t tell and we weren’t told “why”.  Why were they presenting what they were presenting?  What insights and intelligence did they unearth that led them in these directions?  Nothing.  And when asked to help us understand why they chose the directions they did, next to nothing.

So What Does This Mean For You, The Marketer?

Means look deep.  Don’t request spec creative and see where things end up.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised…promise you.

And importantly, you are more likely to find a better agency to meet your needs.  Most anyone can execute and integrate.  It’s the agency that can think and be your strategic partner that will be of greatest value long-term.

I’ve been managing the RSW/AgencySearch business for close to 4 years now and we’ve managed over 25 searches and each and every time, I’m surprised and delighted by the process and the thinking and the output that is delivered by the different agencies we review.