Zulu Alpha Kilo: Spec

This video is making the rounds on social media, and for good reason. It’s funny, smart and spot on.

Just in case you’re lost, allow us to explain: The guy in the suit is acting exactly like many, many advertising agencies (and many of their clients). Unfortunately, agencies don’t seem to understand why this is horrible for their own businesses and the interests of their clients.

The silver lining (from a cynical perspective): Agencies frantically demanding spec work is yet another sign of their deepening insecurity in the face of their undeniable slide into irrelevance.

There are good agencies, to be sure. And agencies can perform valuable services without eviscerating the creative industry that actually produces their work. But many don’t.

Architects don’t give away their blueprints. Diners don’t fork out free meals. Personal Trainers don’t sign over their intellectual property on spec. This video pokes fun at the speculative creative bidding process in new business pitches. We believe there’s a better way for agencies and clients to find the perfect match.

Find out more at www.zulualphakilo.com/saynotospec

Hopefully, this video creates some sort of movement in the agency world. If not, good riddance.


Agency: Zulu Alpha Kilo
Creative Director: Zak Mroueh
Art Director: Guilherme Bermejo
Writer: Nick Doerr
Agency Producer: Tara Handley
Production House: Zulubot
Director: Zak Mroueh
Producers: Tara Handley, Daniel Kaplan
Director of Photography: Albert Huh
Casting Director: Shasta Lutz
Post, Editing, Music Company: Zulubot
Editor: Mike Headford
Colorist, Transfer: Roslyn Di Sisto – Smith
Producer: Tara Handley
Music : Asche and Spencer
Engineer: Stephen Stepanic
Actor: Chris Locke

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About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



I’m always happy to have creative discussions with clients and agencies, and more than happy to put together a pdf or web page of previous examples of my work related to the brief. You need to sell yourself and you need to show interest and that you’re more than a commodity…

But the minute I “mock something up” or create a “quick motion test” or “put together a few frames” I almost guarantee myself that my effort will not result in a paying gig.

I’m a freelancer so I’d put myself in a different boat than an agency or mid to large sized studio, but who is successful when it comes to spec work?

Are there freelancers/shops/agencies out there who are getting 75%, 50%, 25% of their jobs based on spec work and the RFP process?

Nice job Zulu Alpha Kilo!

Justin Cone

“Are there freelancers/shops/agencies out there who are getting 75%, 50%, 25% of their jobs based on spec work and the RFP process?”

In terms of studios, yes, absolutely. I’d wager that studios who are producing broadcast work (i.e. primarily for TV) are pitching for roughly 75% of their work. We pitched for at least 75% of our work at the Very Well Known Studio That Shall Go Unnamed where I worked before quitting back in December.

My attitude towards pitching has shifted over the last few years. I used to see it as a useful phase of the creative process, one where studios could push the envelope – both their own and the agency/client’s.

But in the face of more and more aggressive agencies (and their rapaciously clueless procurement departments), I’ve seen things get worse and worse. So now I side with people like Bran Dougherty-Johnson, who’ve always held that studios should be hired based on their portfolios and the relationships they have developed over time.

Bran Dougherty-Johnson

Oh hi! Remember when we did this? http://motiongraphicdesigncensus.org/2011/05/2011-motion-design-pitch-questionnaire/

I feel like this discussion has been happening my entire career, and every few years something like this blows up the issue again for a few weeks, then we go back to business as usual.

As I said yesterday on twitter, I’m grateful for the clients who want to work with me on their projects without setting me up to compete against other studios or give them unpaid work to secure the job before we start working on the design and concept together. I feel like it works much better if everyone is collaborating from the beginning. I suspect lots of others feel the same, but are stuck in the status quo of how to attract new clients and get new business.

And obviously, it seems that that model works for many of the bigger studios. So how do you change something that continues to rely on the power imbalance and hierarchy that it also creates?

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