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Is the Incentive Travel Industry Ready to #SayNotoSpec?

Overview

Zak Mroueh is the Founder of Zulu Alpha Kilo, a creative agency based in Toronto. Several years ago, he got fed up with doing spec work for clients – in the agency world this is creating entire ad campaigns to use in a pitch situation when trying to win a client. As you can imagine, this is very expensive. It also leads to situations where clients use your ideas but not your firm, choose an incumbent in spite of your work – because they needed a “second bid”, and other scenarios where a lot of time and money are spent on proposals and sharing of Zulu Alpha Kilo’s experience and creative work.

Wait a minute! Doesn’t that sound just like the Incentive Travel Industry sales process??

Mr. Mroueh made the decision to no longer do “spec” work. As a result, he does not bid on 80% of the leads that come to him, because spec work has been required “going back to the days of Mad Men”. In other words, it had always been that way so that is just the way it is. But as Mr. Mroueh points out, spec work “Is expensive. It’s time consuming. It’s stressful. And let’s face it – it’s an institutionalized way of getting us to work for free”.Again, this sounds a lot like what we do in the Incentive Travel Industry!
There is a hilarious set of videos that Zulu Alpha Kilo have produced to emphasize this point, here is an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y5IaCQA86o.

So six years ago Mr. Mrouech made the decision to “Say No to Spec”. Far from hurting his business, it has thrived and in 2016 Zulu Alpha Kilo was named Ad Age’s Small Agency of the Year, a prestigious industry award.
In the Incentive Travel Industry, Destination Management Companies, Incentive Houses and Meeting Planning companies of all stripes are expected to put their best work forward in a pitch to a client, with no guarantee of a lasting relationship. The most expensive part of our program development and production process is the sales proposal part. However, when a client looks at our pricing, they are only taking into account what they are paying us for each event compared to what they think they can find on the street. To develop a customized, accurate proposal for a client can take as much as 100 hours of work by our proposal team. Add hard costs like site inspections, and the cost of a sales proposal quickly goes past $10,000. Taking into consideration the industries average conversion rate (percentage of sales proposals confirmed), the sales load of a decent size program runs around $25,000.
Can we as an industry come up with a better solution for clients and ourselves to determine the best partnerships? There are plenty of reasons to do so from the client’s perspective as well.