From Spec to Sold with Christine Yodsukar
Wouldn’t it be amazing if your dream company hired you for your ideal gig? They love your work, they think you’re the perfect person for the job and they pay you your rate, no questions asked. This does not have to remain a fantasy. One powerful way we have made this happen in our business is by creating spec projects.
A spec is when you create content for a company that hasn’t actually hired you, but you create it as if they had. You research their brand messaging and current marketing efforts, and figure out what they are missing. Have you ever looked at another business’s website and seen the most awful photos and thought, “They could really use new headshots. I would do such a better job for them”? You’ve found a major hole in their marketing: poor headshots that do not instill confidence in the consumer. The solution is professional headshots by an expert: you. Once you’ve found the hole in their marketing, you have struck gold. You can now create content that solves their problem, makes their job easier and, hopefully, brings in more revenue.
We started creating specs for companies before we knew it was a thing. We just thought it would be cool to create videos for products that we loved, like the Nutri Ninja, Doritos and AT&T. In the beginning, our biggest mistake was that after we created the content, we didn’t do anything with it. We showed it to our friends and family, but we didn’t believe we could make something happen with it. Clients would come to us saying they wanted to work with us after seeing our videos. It dawned on us that if we shared the work we produced for clients to bring in new clients, we could also share these specs to bring in a new kind of client. It took us a while to figure it out, and I am so glad we did.
One of my favorite spec stories happened last year. Our clients hired us to create educational content for their businesses that they could sell online to their consumers. Filming these was great because it involved creating gorgeous lighting and perfecting the sound. Creatively, it left us wanting to do something else. We wanted to do something that had a script and actors, something different.
We decided to create a commercial that Shutterfly could use to promote the importance of printed products because we believe in the importance of printed products too and they needed some help with their video campaigns. We also thought it would be freaking cool to work with a huge company.
With our client in mind and the hole in their marketing that we found, we set off to create a commercial that would knock their socks off. We made a budget and a production timeline, cast actors, wrote a script and produced a commercial. After finding out that Shutterfly is unable to take any unsolicited materials for legal reasons, we knew we had to find a new client to create this for.
We showed it to companies we thought would be interested because they also believe in the importance of printed products and they don’t have a video campaign. Two companies showed interest in the commercial. One of them bought our spec, asked for some small edits and ordered two additional commercials—and they built an entire campaign around our idea. It was our biggest contract to date. What began as a yearning to create something exciting turned into our being hired by an amazing company and meetings with another big company, an opportunity we never would have dreamed of.
That was an example of selling the exact piece of content we created, but it doesn’t always work out this way. Here is another instance from the past year that was different, but that also ended with new clients.
So much of the work we do is meant for prequalified viewers to watch. This means the viewer already knows something about the business whose video they are watching, and they know they are interested. The video content needs to look amazing, sound amazing and give them a ton of value. What it doesn’t need to do as much is catch their attention for the very first time in a sea of other attention-grabbing media. We wanted to create something that could act as that attention-grabbing video that made you stop scrolling and watch, like and share—that made you feel something when you watched it. Naturally, we made a commercial of our car.
This wasn’t just any car commercial. It wasn’t selling a car as much as a lifestyle. Instead of telling people what they could do with this car if they bought it, I wanted them to imagine themselves in it. The music was important to this edit, and the footage was handheld and free. Instead of telling you that this is a great car for adventuring in, you see closeups of my arm hanging out the window surfing the air and my hair blowing in the wind. Instead of telling you that it’s a great family car, you see a closeup of my son’s feet kicking and dancing over my shoulder as I look at him in the backseat. Instead of telling you it’s a good car for a millennial, you see me putting a reusable canvas shopping bag in the trunk, pressing a button and walking away as the trunk closes.
The day I posted the video, I got a message from a business owner wanting to hire us. She booked us. The next week, we got an email from a past portrait client saying she had shown the video to her marketing director, and they wanted to hire us to do their video content. They already had a video team, but wanted to bring us on instead.
There is so much power in creating something that gets you excited. It can bring a return on your investment if you make sure the right people see it. Pick a company that you would love to create content for. Research them and their brand and find the holes in their marketing. Create a budget and a project timeline, and produce the heck out of something amazing for them.
And don’t forget the last and most important step: Show it to them.