Poster Contest For Twin Cities Marathon Runs Into Hot Water

November 18, 2010

Twin Cities Marathon poster designs, 2008 & 2009

Twin Cities In Motion is hosting a competition to create an original work of art to be featured on the official 2011 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Poster. But AIGA Minnesota and others in the design community have taken issue with the contest.

“The contest for the Twin Cities Marathon is especially disturbing because its rules clearly state that all entries become the property of the Marathon, regardless of if they are chosen as winners or not,” AIGA Minnesota said on its website.

“Further, the rules state that the Marathon can use part of any entry submitted and may choose not to select a winner at all,” the AIGA statement says. “Under these conditions, it is possible for the Twin Cities Marathon to select no winner and pay no award, yet slightly modify an entry for use as the final poster.'”

Doug Powell, a designer and business strategist, agrees with AIGA.

“Once upon a time, the TCM poster was a highly visible and much anticipated showpiece,” Powell said. “It was considered a great honor to be selected to design the poster and, indeed, some of the top designers, illustrators, and photographers had this honor, including Charles Spencer Anderson, Stan Fellows, and Little & Company, to name just a few.”

Twin Cities in Motion is a nonprofit organization that operates the annual marathon and related events. The organization is responding to AIGA’s concerns, according to an email I received from Hannah Schroeder, a communications specialist with the group.

“We have had a conversation with Mr. Johnson and are looking at amending the language used in the rules,” Schroeder stated.

Damien Wolf, president and creative director at OrangeSeed Design, has worked with Twin Cities in Motion on marathon promotions for more than a decade.

“They [TCM] are a fabulous design partner and have been great to work with,” Wolf said. “I’ve been observing both sides and look forward to more discussion happening at the table, rather than the open forum. I’ve offered to join the discussion with AIGA and TCM and will save most of my comments for that arena.”

The topic of spec work is an important one for AIGA. Seth Johnson, president of AIGA Minnesota, said he’s discussed the poster contest issue with marathon organizers, but he declined to detail the conversation. He said marathon organizers are willing to continue the discussion.

“No matter what the outcome, we’re happy our voice is being heard and we welcome ideas from others on how to be more proactive on this issue,” Johnson said. “A volunteer-run organization can only accomplish so much.”

Madison-based designer Evan Stremke‘s stance on spec work has shifted in the past year. As a student, he competed on CrowdSpring, a design contest website where people submit designs in the hope of winning a prize.

“I won six projects and earned $1,700, a substantial amount of money for a student,” Stremke said. “The client base was, at first, mom-and-pop startups that were strapped for cash. Creating work for such individuals made me feel as though I was providing a more charitable service, and I didn’t think twice about what I was doing. But eventually clients like Starbucks, Healthy Choice, and LG joined the party and things, for me, went sour.”

“With Medtronic as such a powerful player in the event, there’s no reason they can’t offer more as a prize. $750 is not only insulting to the creative individual that might spend (or waste), his or her time on such work, but it’s insulting to our craft and industry as a whole. Setting aside the issue of money for a minute, asking anyone for free creative deliverables is just plain wrong.”

The deadline for the marathon’s poster contest is Dec. 17.

For more information on the issue of spec work check out, and be on the lookout for updates on this specific issue at

Editor’s note: Hillary Heinz is a member of AIGA Minnesota.