Architects don’t give away their blueprints.

Restaurants don’t fork out FREE meals hoping you’ll pay for it only if you think it is good.

Painters don’t paint your house for FREE hoping you’ll “like” the color—then pay for it.

A landscaper won’t mow your lawn for an entire year for FREE—hoping you’ll like the work + actually “hire” them.

Professional personal trainers don’t sign over their intellectual property on “SPEC.”


SPEC means “speculative work.” What really does SPEC encapsulate?

It basically means working for “FREE.”

If you are trying to earn a living, why would you risk giving away physical property, human capital or intellectual property?

Would you be happy if you learned a loved one risked working for nothing?

Of course not.

So why would you expect someone else to surrender intellectual property to your business or municipality?

That’s the ethical question + it says a lot about the requesting party’s (asker’s) character if they request that you to submit an RFQ … or perform SPEC work.

There’s nothing but red flags all around. Not a great way to begin any relationship.


SPEC work or Request For Proposals (RFQs) usually comes in two forms in our marketing + advertising industry:

1) A client asks several “commercial artists” i.e. marketing people, photographers or graphic designers to complete parts of a project (basically they’re asking for FREE work).

The client picks one winner—gives them the job—and all others go home with nothing for their hard work. (In our marketing business, every RFQ is unique + must be customized, therefore we invest up to 40 hours creating the document for submission. We’re risking 40 hours of billable time for a “hope.” That’s basically working for FREE for an entire week.)


2) A client starts a contest and gathers submissions from dozens, if not hundreds of marketing people, photographers or graphic designers. They pick one winner and pay a modest—often way under “industry standard” fee—and the rest go home empty handed with nothing to show for their time + hard work. Many “askers” have a “smug” attitude—they feel you should be honored to help them achieve their goals.


If you are the client, the best work you can expect will come out from a healthy relationship with an experienced, award-winning marketing company, a seasoned professional photographer/videographer or an accomplished graphic designer. Basically it’s WIN-WIN when your needs, wants + desires are understood … and a proper plan is developed, then expertly executed by a “commercial artist” who is compensated fairly. As a client you will WIN BIG when together—you + the person/company you hired develop exciting ideas from the ground up.

FREE is good isn’t it?

Just because you get FREE designs, doesn’t mean any of them are effective and will achieve the goals you want to achieve. In fact, in the case of working with an unproven graphic designer, you may learn they blatantly ripped off another design.

How exactly?

Design contests have created an underground process where some unscrupulous graphic designers, photographers or marketing people will quickly enter contests with as many solutions (designs) as possible. They swiftly copy work from the web and present it as their own. So that new logo of yours—it might actually be somebody else’s. Is that what you, the client expect? I didn’t think so.

One more thing:

Some RFQs (Request for proposals) are so bold that within the documentation, it clearly spells out that your submissions become the recipient’s intellectual property. This means that any ideas you submitted are no longer yours and they can do whatever they want with them without having to compensate the creator. Basically they can profit off your ideas and you get nothing. Don’t believe me? I’ll show you several examples from businesses and municipalities alike.

If you are in the “commercial arts,” i.e. a marketing person, videographer, photographer or graphic designer, you should NEVER, EVER work for established companies for FREE.

And yet … if your goal is to build up your portfolio, there are other ways to protect yourself + accomplish your goals.

A) Design for a local charity.

B) Create something for a personal friend’s business.

C) Better yet, invest time creating your own customized projects.

That’s exactly what I did over 40 years ago and when I went in with my portfolio—it was my own original work that I produced.

The result:

Rival advertising agencies fought over my skillset. They could clearly see my “out of the box thinking” was ridiculously unique. The best part was that none of it was obscured by a client’s need to “make changes for the sake of making changes” or worse … “put their thumbprint” on the work.


Spec work would seem absurd in most other professional industries …

Would you ask several chefs to prepare your next meal for FREE?

And then only pay for the best one?

Could you hold a contest and get hundreds of lawyers to write your will …

And then only pick and reward one?

I didn’t think so.

This is why you shouldn’t treat marketing pros, photographers/videographers or graphic designers any different.

If you own a business and are considering a SPEC approach … do the right thing … do the decent thing.

Find a competent professional, negotiate an amicable fee + compensate them fairly.

And for all my creative brethren, which include, but are not limited to marketing professionals, videographers/photographers + graphic designers:


… hope you enjoyed our take on this ancient practice. Have a blessed day.