Ethics of Spec Work in RFPs?

In the past few days, there’s been a somewhat heated discussion on Linked In about companies expecting creative firms to give away their design ideas on RFPs—before getting paid or selected, of course! The discussion was expanded to all RFPs and many different people, ranging from consultants to CFOs commented their varying views.

I wanted to share my view on spec work being required in RFPs.

I’ve been involved in several website, design and marketing projects from the hiring side and now from the vendor side. A company can manage their RFP process however they’d like; I don’t think this is so much an issue of ethics but of business efficiency.

Companies think that they are saving money by asking for spec work, but what they don’t realize is that nothing is free. The more work they require upfront, the more they’ll pay in the long run. And why waste the precious money in your budget for pretty designs that will most likely be scrapped once the project is underway? If a company spends $2000 getting your business, then add that to the tab (or subtract that from the quality of the website you’ll be getting).

We prefer to work with clients who chose us because of our reputation; RFPs can yield good results, but they’ll always be more expensive than a shorter and more efficient evaluation process.

I also find it interesting that the hiring process for different types of vendors is so drastically different.

For example, if an association or corporation were to hire a new accounting firm, they wouldn’t expect that firm to do their audit and taxes to see if they would do a good job. Rather, they would go off recommendations and client testimonials. Would they expect their accountants to provided a fixed estimate for their services or would they provide detailed examples of their thought process and/or final product?

What can those of us who are involved in non-accounting services do to better justify our experience and talent to perform the job after hired, rather than having to prove our worth upfront?


Sonia is the marketing strategist & word geek for NeuConcept.