Recently, my friends at AWAI asked me to participate in a small
panel discussion about writing copy on spec.
Spec work means no money up front, no obligation on the part of
the client to use or even read your copy, and no obligation to
pay you a cent.
Because I am militantly anti-spec work, and not just for
copywriters, I had to prepare for the discussion with a quick
outline of my anti-spec arguments — and here they are:
#1–No skin in the game.
The potential client who asks you to work on spec has no “skin in
Without a financial commitment, he can abandon the project at any
time — no skin off his nose.
If he does so, you, by comparison, have just wasted your valuable
If a prospect thinks you are worth your salt, is serious, and can
afford you, she will hire you.
Asking you to work on spec means she isn’t convinced you can do
the job or are worth the fee you want to charge.
Who would want to work for such a client?
Because spec assignments are so ephemeral and iffy, many editors
and marketing managers will hire you on a whim, some without even
having a real assignment or, if they have one, with no intent on
giving it to you.
One form of spec work is, “We will pay you nothing now, but if
your copy works, we’ll pay you a royalty or percentage of sales.”
Yes, but if the client decides not to go ahead and run the promotion, my
royalty will be zero.
Asking someone to do spec work is in essence asking them to
Can you imagine asking your local pizza place to make and deliver
a pizza to you, without charging you, with the promise that if you
like it, they will become your regular pizza restaurant?
Not all, but the vast majority of companies that ask freelancers
to work on spec are small ad agencies or business — little
operators you never heard of and know nothing about. Meaning they
are not vetted.
Why would you trust such a stranger, already making a
questionable request, to be good for the money?
A common enticement is, “If this spec project works out, we’ll
have a ton of work to give you.”
Why would you want to work for a client who starts with you by
saying they have so little confidence in you they will only hire
you without pay or commitment?
#8–“We’re testing several writers and the winner gets hired and
If I wanted to enter a contest, I’d enter a beauty contest —
though obviously, I’d lose.
I’m not here to enter contests. I’m here to work with clients who
hire me with a contract, an agreed-upon fee, and a retainer for
half up front.
#9–It’s no way to run a business.
This short video makes a compelling case for why it is neither
appropriate to ask vendors to supply service or goods on spec,
nor a good idea for vendors to provide services and goods on
Exceptions? Yes. But relatively few.