WHAT WE THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT.
Here’s a fun tidbit. Our brand character is Johan Sebastian Bach. We love how he went about his business. He composed music, because it was his job. He went to work every day and composed the music that needed to be composed that day. Over the course of his career, he developed things like counterpoint and voice leading best practices that became the standard for composition students for 300+ years. And he developed a body of work that qualified him as one of the three greatest composers in the history of western music. And he made a living at it.
Anyhow, one day, when old JS was in the prime of his career, he decided he wanted to get a job writing music for the Margrave of Brandenburg. I don’t even know what a Margrave is, but apparently it was a pretty big muckety-muck around those parts, back in those days.
To get the job, Bach wrote six concertos, known today as the Brandenburg Concertos. They fit into the category of concerto grosso, which was the forerunner of the symphony (Bach lived his entire life before the symphony was invented!). He presented the concertos to the Margrave of Brandenburg in a bound volume, hoping to get the gig.
One of the Brandenburg Concertos was single-handedly responsible for moving the harpsichord out of the drum line and making it a solo instrument. No Brandenburg Concerto: no George Gershwin, Franz Lizt, Sergei Rachmaninoff, or Dave Brubeck. Another one of these very important concertos grosso gave American Public Media their mnemonic (listen for it at the beginning of A Prairie Home Companion). They did a lot for the music world, but you know what they didn’t do…
They didn’t get Johan Sebastian Bach the gig.
They didn’t get Johan Sebastian Bach a thank you.
They didn’t get Johan Sebastian Bach a penny.
Why? Who knows. Maybe they just didn’t suit the Margrave’s taste. Maybe the Margrave couldn’t read music (and didn’t know anyone who could). Maybe the Margrave was tone deaf. Maybe the Margrave was a numb-nut pretty boy, who inherited his position, and didn’t know squat. Whatever.
The point is, Bach assumed that the Margrave would recognize what he held in his hand (six very, very, very, very well written and historically important musical compositions), and that recognizing this, he would immediately seek out Bach and offer him the gig, in hopes of getting more great music. Why did Bach assume this? Because he (Bach) recognized what the Margrave held in his hand. All of which leads to why spec work rarely pays, either for the agency or the client.
The client has specific objectives (not to mention specific tastes). The agency has limited knowledge of the client’s objectives or taste (and distinctive taste of its own). The chances that the agency will do anything—with limited or no direction from the client—that will satisfy the client’s need (or that the client will even think is cool) are pretty slim. So…spec work wastes the agency’s time, the client’s time, and takes away time that could be spent profitably serving existing clients.