Design competitions and public relations

There have been a few high profile design competitions lately. Obama for America a couple of weeks ago. And then Moleskine today.

I support AntiSpec. It’s important to educate designers about spec work and why it’s likely not in their best interest to participate. And we should absolutely hold companies and organizations responsible when they ask for spec work.

However, I think we could be reaching out to another audience.

A different perspective

One of my many majors in college - on my way to the advertising degree I finished with - was public relations. And from a public relations standpoint, design competitions make sense.

For a relatively small amount of money, you get an army of people excited about your product. They submit logos. They tell their friends. Sometimes, they get people to vote for designs which drives traffic to a website, blog or social media channel. In the end, the client gets something they can use. People are taking about their product. Not much money was spent. PR company is happy. Client is happy. Someone won some money. Win-win for everyone, right?

The lawyers get involved and they write the fine print so the company keeps all the rights to the designs. Why? Because that’s what they do. Protect the company. Prevent a future lawsuit.

Now for the PR folks, the design isn’t the priority. They want the attention for the product. And the client probably doesn’t care about the design. They just want people to be excited about their company. And the lawyer doesn’t want the company to get sued.

No one involved - the PR executive, the client or the lawyers - is actually concerned with what the design looks like.

The design perspective

As designers, we look at competitions from a design perspective. We see designers not getting compensated for their work. Clients keeping the rights to all designs whether they win or not. And for designers, worst of all, clients getting subpar work that could be much better.

We like to think the design competition is about design. It’s not. It’s about the competition. The involvement. That’s the whole point of the competition. To involve customers. Telling a company that they will end up with a poor quality design won’t work when getting a good design wasn’t their goal to start with.

The unfortunate truth is that if someone is holding a design contest, they don’t care about design. Period.

The missing audience

I think we as designers, AntiSpec, AIGA, etc. should reach out to the public relations community and express our concerns about spec work. While it’s important to educate designers not to participate in these contests, it’s not going to stop the contests from being held. Maybe by reaching out to organizations like PRSA or schools that teach public relations, we can make them aware of the drawbacks of design competitions and encourage them to not to pitch them to their clients.

Just a thought.