Traditionally, lazily even, there are two types of work that come into agencies: pitch work and client work.

Pitch work is stuff there is out there you aren’t going to be doing, but you want to. It is out there to be won. You get a chance, you throw your stuff into the pot, and hope the client prefers your approach (on many levels) over everyone else who throws their stuff into the pot.

Client work: that’s “we’re their agency so they come to us be default”, “we’re on a retainer”, “we’ve got a relationship already”, “business as usual”, or however you want to frame it.

Whichever, they are opportunities to do work. This approach to framing work - pitch work and client work - comes across as red herring and distracts from the actual issue: the precise composition of the work we are doing.

Basically, in whatever situation how much do we actually know about what we are going to do? Is the work fleshed out and thought through (which is will call defined work)? Or not (which I will call speculative work)?

Pitch work is usually tagged as speculative. Sometimes, rightly. But it can not just be speculative. Respect where it is due: some clients do send through ace defined pitch briefs, that have an understanding of the opportunity. Others, not so. The ony difference is “we have to put more into presenting pitch work than ‘regular work’” (which is a perspective something I disagree with, but I’ll post on that another time).

Likewise, work for existing clients can be either speculative or defined. How many times has the brief from the client been vague and we have to work out what is neede? We have to work out what is needed and get the client’s buy in. That’s speculative by nature. But also clients are also pretty smart and can send through requests that already have justifiable reasoning behind them - they are defined.

So, let’s move on and start to concentrate on the nature of the work ahead of us, rather than the internal business tagging of why we are doing it.

Start with How much do we know? Not presume. Know. If we don’t know we’re in speculation territory. If we know we have our brief defined. Go from there.

Speculative work This is a request that is vague, lacking in detail, purpose, strategy. Whether it is pitch work, whether it is an existing client’s request there needs to be knowing what we are doing and how will do it ‘right’.

The process may be:

  • Need for work comes in
  • Analysis of the need (vetting)
  • Strategy/approach definition
  • Recognition of needed deliverables (ideas, costs etc)
  • Logistics planning (limiting factors/timings/costs)
  • Review (internally/externally)
  • Permission to proceed

Defined work This is a request that has been thought through. It arrives on your lap in shape showing it has been fed down from the speculative approach. It already has form. It tends to set up:

  • Idea generation
  • Presentation

The goal from the speculative and defined stages is we progress to production. We’ll save that stage for another time.

Even if you have to do some desk work to firm up your speculative opportunity, a defined position will give you a much stronger chance to do the best work possible. The stronger the definition the greater the chance work has of actually being effective.


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