Creative Best Practices Opinions

What do Spec Creative, Kodak and hot dogs have in common?

Posted by Adam Kleinberg on July 22nd, 2010 at 3:58 am

A few months ago, I saw then still Kodak CMO, Jeff Hayzlett speak at a conference in Miami. His presentation was exciting and dynamic and it was clear that he had a smart no-bullshit approach to both marketing and management—two things that, if you follow my writing, you know I value. So, I decided to pick up his book, The Mirror Test: Is Your Business Really Breathing?, which I finished last night.

In it, Jeff tells a great story. I probably have the details of the story all wrong, but the meat... well, I got the meat.

At one point in his career, Jeff had a job as a county fair promoter in South Dakota. He had the absolute perfect, amazing, terrific promotional opportunity for a regional meat packing company. Couldn't be better. Jeff went to the owner and said "all we need is for you to donate 10,000 hot dogs and you can put your logo on the top of the county fair tent in blazing lights." The guy couldn't say no.

But, the owner looked at Jeff and he did say "No."

Jeff's chin hit the floor. He's couldn't believe this guy wasn't going for this opportunity.

Then, the guy said "but I'll cut you a check so you can buy the hot dogs at retail."

Of course, Jeff was confused. "Why?" he asked. "That'll cost you four times as much."

The owner of the meat-packing plant looked him straight in the eye and said, "We don't give away our meat."

If you give away the meat of what you do, how can you justify its value? That was a valuable lesson for Jeff and a valuable lesson for me.

I run a creative agency. We design brand experiences that differentiate brands. We have great clients. We're mid-sized. We're reasonable well-known. We've been recognized as a top interactive agency and a social media agency to watch. All of which means we get a fair number of RFPS. And more and more, almost invariably, those RFPs ask me to give away my meat for free.

So, today, I called a prospective client on the telephone. We had made it to the finals based on our response to their RFQ and just got the brief for the second round. I said "I'm sorry, but we're going to have to pull out of your pitch process. We don't do spec creative."

Ideas are my meat.

The client called me back two hours later and said they'd pulled creative out of the pitch assignment and asked if we'd be willing to still participate.

We will participate. We will think about their business. We will over-deliver and surpass their expectations. We'll probably be eating pizza at 11 pm the night before the pitch. Why? Because we care about our work. If I don't care enough to make sure I win the business, I don't deserve the business. But there ain't no way I'm going to devalue my meat.

Jeff, if you're reading this, thanks. It was indeed a Kodak Moment.

And everyone else, if you're reading this, think twice before you give away the meat of your business.

2 Responses to “What do Spec Creative, Kodak and hot dogs have in common?”

  1. Peter Nowack says:

    Adam -- props! Meat give-aways aren't just limited to spec creative. I find that I get hit up (usually by clients who only have occasional work for me) for tips, ideas, and market understanding that have taken me years to develop/aquire. Sure, we should be happy to answer a quick question...but there comes a point where on has to be firm about the"pay for play" boundary.

  2. Jan Carroza says:

    We have this conversation a lot. Doing social media for clients as well as ourselves, the question often comes up? Are we giving away too much? Our answer to date is no. Even if we published a book today on how our clients do what they do

    1) no one else has the exact experience to draw on
    2) the same creative talent nor
    3) the unique position of being waist-deep every day that keeps them up with the latest cutting-edge techniques to apply.

    That said, I agree with Peter. Answering quick questions is one thing. We all draw the line when the prospect has enough information to make the commitment to hire.


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