Below is a letter that was sent by the executive director of The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD Ontario) to the editor of Marketing magazine, regarding spec work.
Spec pitches unethical
Your articles on the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) spec competition for the Olympic emblem ("Designers oppose Olympics contest," Marketing Daily, May 26 and "Design downer," Street Talk, June 7, p. 22) had the apparent slant that the VANOC emblem selection method is acceptable, based mostly on a rationale that it has been done this way before and that VANOC is not-for-profit (which simply means that there are no shareholders to divide profits, not necessarily that the organization is poor).
Requests for speculative work are a plague on the industry of graphic design. Spec work is work for free without guarantee of compensation, and it is an extremely harmful practice to both clients and designers alike. Requests for spec work in lieu of RFPs are unprofessional, exploitative and unethical, offer no future earning potential, can lead to copyright infringement, result in negative competitive practices, threaten the integrity and work ethic of the graphic design profession, and are also discouraged by allied professions such as the advertising industry.
The 2010 Olympic Winter Games emblem competition which invites designers to submit an entry in return for the chance to win $25,000 and two tickets to the opening ceremony of the Games is an example of an unethical request for spec work. The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD Ontario) has put this view in writing to the CEO of the organizing committee VANOC. RGD Ontario's members are prohibited by bylaw from engaging in spec work.
It may very well be that some Games organizing committees have run their competitions in this way, but several others have not. Further, the notion that spec work is acceptable because VANOC is a not-for-profit organization is a red herring. If VANOC requires pro bono work, this should be stated up front, and in that case too an RFP process would be the professional and ethical selection method to use.
We want to share with you some information we received from the Institute of Communications and Advertising in 2002, when they sent us a correction to our mistaken assertion in one our newsletters that the practice of spec work was acceptable in the advertising industry.
I quote from the Institute's brochure: "In 1996 and 1997, KPMG completed a study entitled ICA Speculative Presentation Financial Audit. The average cost of speculative presentations was determined to be $169,129. Agencies that devote unrecoverable time and resources to "spec" work damage their existing clients and even the advertisers for whom the work is done. "Spec" work is an unreliable measure of an agency, showing only one dimension and ignoring important qualities such as strategic thinking, shared values, senior management commitment, chemistry and so on. The process, truncated and artificial, trivializes the currency of a true agency and client relationship and often establishes non-duplicable remuneration and deadline patterns, leading to frustration for both parties. The process leaves both parties open to the abuses of miscommunication, disappointment and re-negotiation. "Spec" work invites problems with copyright laws that view original work as the property of the creator. The ICA advocates that its members not give their ideas away for free or for trivial amounts of money."
It would be good if you could give this side of the spec work argument some ink too. With respect to VANOC it may be that some people have lost perspective because it is the Olympics, and that therefore the organizing committee should be given some sort of special dispensation. But spec work is spec work, no matter who is demanding it. And spec work is an unethical, unprofessional business practice that harms everyone.
Carmen von Richthofen
The Association of Registered Graphic Designers
of Ontario (RGD Ontario) Toronto
©2004, Habib Bajrami/Carmen von Richthofen