Will work for food…

…And a six figure salary.

Okay, make it a high five figure salary, chuck in an iPhone, MacBook Pro, accommodation (if more than a 50 mile radius from sunny Manchester), health insurance, a car allowance, share options, a seat at the top table, and we’ve got a deal.

Anyone and everyone in the ad industry will be familiar with the concept of pitching for a client’s business.

Nothing wrong with that. Personally, I get a buzz out of it.

But more and more frequently ad agencies are asking creatives to pitch for jobs.

Not satisfied with the contents of your portfolio and character, they are asking suitors to work on fictitious briefs.

Essentially: Try before they buy.

It has happened to me on four occasions.

Twice I’ve been offered the position, once I wasn’t and once I declined to take part.

So a 66.6% success rate in this new form of interview probably isn’t a bad statistic.

But why put anyone through it in the first place?

Do they think I have stolen the entire contents of my portfolio over the past twenty (ahem) years in the industry and that this test will either prove or disprove this fact?

Agencies continually bemoan the fact they have to pitch for business due to the amount of money and resources they consume, so why put potential employees through the same rigmarole?

Let’s look at it from a practical point of view:

If you’re already in a job, where are you going to find the time to spend on this spec brief?

A prospective employer might say that someone hungry for the job will work late into the night. Well, most creatives I know are already doing that in their present jobs.

There’s a world of difference between a Copy Test and producing a full-blown creative presentation across multiple media channels, (the same process and quantity you would produce for an agency pitch) – but single-handed.

(It’s slightly different if you’re a freelancer and can juggle your workload around a tad.)

On the pitch / interview where I didn’t get the job, I reckon I spent a full week over a three week period working on my presentation. Of course, the subconscious is also working on it over the full three weeks.

On the two that I was successful, it was probably about the same. A day’s research, couple of day’s concepts and a couple of day’s pulling it together. (More concepts arriving on the ‘putting it together’ days.)

Typical media tactics were: TV; Posters; Press; DM; Online banners / Pop ups; Microsite; Collateral; Ambient / Guerilla; oh, and of course – an App.

And, to be honest, I quite enjoyed the process. As I said, I love doing pitches. But that’s not the point.

I’ve made a few hires in my time and I didn’t have to get them to answer a brief before I offered them a job. And I haven’t regretted a single one. (In Chris Miller’s case, I offered him the job before he could finish his cup of tea.)

If the CDs / MDs in question are such a poor judge of creativity and character why are they in the job in the first place?

You may say, if I’m that against it, why take part? And you’d be right. I think in the first instance, I needed a job. And second, I think it’s a buyer’s market. There are too many candidates applying for too few positions.

Would I do it again?

I would rather not, but it would depend on who the job was with.

I’d be interested to get other people’s views on this practice. I’m sure there are some CDs and MDs out there who think it’s a great idea.

Now, if it’s dressed up as a freelance gig and money changes hands, that’s a whole different story.

I charge £350 per day, or £1,500 for the full week. That’s a massive £250 discount!

Now, if anyone’s popping out for a sarnie, I’ll have a pastie from Gregg’s.

An Ideal World


Filed under Advertising, Brand, Ideas, Strategy

8 responses to “Will work for food…

  1. This was real great and insightful into what the other side is dealing with in our industry. I am a photographer and Had no idea the proverbial hoops you creatives jump thru to land a decent gig. Thank for sharing David : )

  2. That’s crazy. I haven’t seen that here in the states yet. But I won’t be surpirsed if I do. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Dave Raube

    I recently had an “opportunity” to show a potential employer what I could do. I was excited to strut my stuff until the interview test period lasted 3 months. WTF! Great scam if you can get away with it. Desperate unemployed creatives beware.

  4. Hi David,

    Great, but worrying post! Personally, I wouldn’t touch a pitch with a barge pole. From an agency perspective, yes, as a freelancer, no. For me, the idea of people using freelancers is so they can be quick, responsive and flexible to their clients’ needs. Making a freelancer go through what sounds like extremely similar hoops that agencies do takes all that convenience away. And the point you make about CDs and MDs who should have the nous (or creative balls) to make a decision is also very relevant. In my happy times as CD at design or brand response agencies, I wouldn’t dream of making a designer, a copywriter or a team pitch – a) I’d feel their respect for me would be a non-starter, right from the off, and b) what the hell am I doing in that position if I can’t make what is effectively a fairly minor creative/strategic decision in the grand scheme.

    As a freelancer, I’ve been happy to provide copy tests of a couple of paras or so, anyone can check out my badly, very badly, put together website (which is also out of date due to the nature of many of my agency clients not wanting me to display their/my work) and I’m more than happy to provide specific examples of work in relevant sectors.

    When agencies pitch for work, it is usually with a view to tackling an initial project but then with an eye on a potential longer relationship. When freelancers are contacted, it is usually for work on a project by project basis; two very different propositions.

    Yep, it’s tough out there at the moment and in many respects, it can be a buyer’s market. But my advice for freelancers is: don’t pitch because of that very reason; spend any time you’d be asked to pitch working on your own new business to blow the socks off any potential prospects that will see the value in your work.

    And remember, if you’re good, creativity is never a commodity. That should always be your trump card.

    Great post, David.

    • Thanks, Larner. Some good points there. The positions I went for were permanent ones. It’s just that I was, and still am, freelancing at the time. But I completely agree, that part of a CD’s remit is to know a good portfolio when they see one and be a good judge of character. I’ve interviewed people who I thought had cracking portfolios but wasn’t keen on their personality, so didn’t offer them a position.

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