Follow-Up to the Rick Warren/Spec Work Debate

September 19, 2009 by

On Thursday evening we posted an entry trying to address the issue of spec work through the current example of Rick Warren’s book cover design contest. In less than 24 hours the post wracked up 133 comments and some heated debate.

Unfortunately, that debate turned ugly and we had to shut down the comments. We wanted to explain our decision to close the comments and clarify our original intent in addressing this issue.

We ultimately made the decision to close the comments because people on both sides of the issue couldn’t have a civil discussion. That’s something we’ve never had to do in over five years of Church Marketing Sucks blogging.

In the end, comments are not the best place for this kind of heated dialogue because we’re not confronted with the reality of the people involved. We talk differently when the debate happens face to face.

We still value comments and the way they can bring important voices to the table, give an opportunity to hear dissent, get a reality check (like we received last month) and share ideas. The openness of comments has always been critical to blogging and we hope to continue that. But the commenters themselves need to behave. That’s not too much to ask. (And for the record, we’re keeping the comments on this post closed as well so as not to reopen the closed debate.)

Why We Addressed Spec Work
We also wanted to clarify why we addressed this issue in the first place.

1) Let’s be clear that we were not attacking Rick Warren. We know he didn’t set out to intentionally hurt anyone. We wanted to take the opportunity to educate Rick and the many other church leaders out there who might not be aware of this issue. This has been a topic we’ve been working on behind the scenes, determining the right angle to address it. When Warren’s contest came up, it seemed like a great launch point to get the conversation going. I’ve written about certain aspects of this argument over the years, including my note to designers and my note to the boss to stop providing or requesting comps because it makes creativity a commodity.

2) As we said in our original post, this is a complicated issue and there is disagreement on it. That’s OK. Not everybody has to agree. The important thing is that we disagree well (which didn’t happen in the comments).

3) We decided to address this issue because it’s an important issue to many (though not all) designers. The fact that a major professional organization for designers has a clear ethical statement on spec work should be compelling enough evidence that this is not a minor issue for designers to just “get over.” Many have said that this is an issue of personal choice, something we acknowledge in our original post. While that is true, it doesn’t negate the complications of this issue for many designers.

In the end, it’s important for church leaders to be aware and be respectful of where many (though not all) designers stand on the issue. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to understand the concerns of designers and not write them off. Likewise, those who take issue with spec work need to address the issue carefully and not attack those who do it. This all comes back to disagreeing well.

4) Finally, Church Marketing Sucks (and the nonprofit Center for Church Communication behind it) has always been about helping churches communicate better. Part of that is addressing and resolving issues between pastors and creatives. This is one of those issues and we will continue to address it. While the comments are closed, the conversation is not over. We look forward to continuing this discussion in a civil and respectful tone. We welcome suggestions as to how we can make that happen. We’ve thought about hosting a forum at an upcoming event, a conference call or even a live video conversation. If you have an idea, drop us a line.

Thanks to all of you who added your voice to the conversation, and to those of you who observed the conversation in progress.

I place a high value on artists because I think they see things in ways the rest of us don’t. I can’t remember the last time I’ve held a strategic planning session without my art director at the table. I need his counsel!

If you are itching to comment on this post or have any other feedback, you’re always welcome to e-mail me.

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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