Agencies, stop dropping your pants to get business #saynotospec

There are many issues with the marketing and advertising industry today and most of them require the industry to come together as one.

Offering services for free or cheaper than the rest is one such issue – or “free Spec work” as this Toronto agency Zulu Alpha Kilo says.

Trust me, this isn’t another client-bashing article because agencies in the adland are themselves to be blamed for their misery.

Look at the video. The flabbergasted look on the faces of these services providers will wake you up, if you’re an agency. And the client in the video will make you feel ashamed, if you are one. (Or so we hope.)

Getting the industry to unite is a tall order, especially in Singapore. Steep competition, revenue and margin pressures have made this seemingly impossible. In the past, numerous attempts have been made to bring the players together but to no avail.

Will we ever see the adland take the high road for the greater good of the industry? Ok, forget that. Will we ever see the adland take the high road for long-term sustenance of its own business? We ask some of the industry players.

Here is what they have to say:

“It’s really about a mindset. Clients (big and small) have gotten used to agencies (big and small) working in this manner and agencies generally have given in and accepted that this is the norm. It’s resulted in a devaluement of our business and what we offer.

One contributing factor is that there’s no governing body to represent and protect agencies here in Singapore (like the 4A’s do in some other markets like the Philippines). This means that everyone is out for their own benefit.

Now, I can fully understand that we all need to defend our business and output while delivering our financial requirements but we’d all be in a much better place, at all levels, if some of these pitch practices were better governed and managed.

Ara Hampartsoumian

Ara Hampartsoumian, managing director, TBWASingapore.

“It’s an interesting bit of entertainment by an agency that’s clearly had a bad experience with a client. I wonder how their clients would feel seeing that?

Some things ring true with the satire but painting clients as lacking empathy and focused on free or spec work feels like the agency has sour grapes. It’d be more useful if they focused on trying to build mutually beneficial client/agency partnerships instead.”

Damien Cummings

Damien Cummings, global head of digital marketing at Standard Chartered Bank.

“Free” is apparently the most powerful word in marketing. At Roth Observatory we’d beg to differ. We believe the most powerful word in marketing is, “No”. There are no other professional services industries who gave away their thinking and IP for free. We believe, to be regarded as a professional services industry, marketing services needs to behave in the same way. And learning how to say “No”,is probably the most important first step.

The responsibility for making this change lies with all parties, but needs to be owned and led by the marketing services industry professional bodies and associations.”

ROI richard bleasdale

Richard Bleasdale, regional managing partner, Asia Pacific at Roth Observatory International

“Indeed, it’s quite disappointing to note that ours is an industry that has not united & stood up against the notion of free pitches or free pilot projects. Whilst the onus lies on every agency in Singapore to have some pride and not shortchange each other, it would definitely help if some of the larger group agencies could take the lead and set the direction for the industry.

This practice is detrimental for agencies and clients in the long run, especially in Singapore where the focus across industries is on increasing productivity. There may come a point of no return since it is always tougher when agencies aren’t able to command the right prices for the talent and effort that they bring to the table.”


Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner of Happy Marketer

“Sadly, there are some terrible clients out there who are trying to screw true professionals out of earning a fair wage. On the other hand there are some absolutely terrible ‘shops’ out there gouging clients for diabolically sh*t work.

So, as sad as it is that we’re in this situation, we made the bed we’re sleeping in. If you’re producing crap work, or you’re being treated like crap, do something about it.”

Tobias Wilson @ccomplice

Tobias Wilson, CEO, APD Singapore

No one likes giving a free hand job, I’d imagine. But the thing is, no one forced the agency to give a free hand job in the first place. Just because a RFP has been issued does not mean you have to swallow it, you know?

So if you don’t want to be one of those who jerks new pitches for free… then don’t.


Pat Law, founder of Goodstuph

Rayana Pandey
Marketing Magazine Singapore
An international business journalist, Rayana has been in Singapore for eight years and loves everything about the city-state - well, almost, with hor fun and popiah topping the list. A part-time actor and a social volunteer, you’ll find her out and about either on stage honing her public speaking skills or back stage volunteering for the National Day Parade or Chingay. Travel, meaningful conversations and meeting new people keep her going.

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