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16 September 2013

a tastemaker, an influencer and an experienced professional walk into a bar... (a rant, not a joke, unfortunately)

i'm sorry, but i have to rant for a minute here...

every day i am asked to take part in a variety of activities as a tastemaker and influencer, and honestly, though i can't participate in everything, i am flattered to be asked. i've worked hard over the last 6 years to promote myself as an interior designer through my various social media channels, and before i started social media, i slogged away as both a design assistant and under my own name, then there was the years of schooling before that. so while i'm happy to wear the hats of tastemaker and influencer, i am also an experienced design professional. an expert in my field, if you will.

so when a *large* internet-based commercial venture (you know their name, we all do) approached me today about working for them by creating content for their site, i was flattered, and gratified that a big company like that was interested in partnering with me to help promote their first foray into the home sector. i immediately responded back that i would be happy to consider working with them, and what was the pay rate?  to which they responded (and i paraphrase) "no pay, but we'll promote you through our website"... um, wait- isn't that what you just approached me to do?  not only "promote you through my channels", but use my experience as a design professional to provide content, in addition to lending my "gravitas"as a veteran in the home design field, to your endeavor?  that seems to be a lot to be asking without compensation beyond "promoting me".  and they weren't just asking for a quote and a headshot (usually happy to provide if it's the right fit), or anything simple, but asking for hours of my time creating exclusive content for them to then commercialize.  i declined and explained that i am a working designer, and that to devote time to their site, takes away time spent with my own clients and i also explained i have obligations to several media partners who are willing pay me (or at least provide some quid pro quo), so working for free wasn't fair to those partners either.

and, normally, it would have ended there. i would be flattered they asked, and that would have been that. after all, the internets is still sorta the wild west with no rules, unions, or even etiquettes for these situations, so whatevs...  but then i  looked on their site and found them boasting of the following facts:

  • they have over twenty million dollars in outside funding.
  • they have been profitable for several years running.
  • they operate at 90% gross margins. 

and that kind of pissed me off. dude (and i use the corporate "dude" here), don't brag about how much money you have and how much fat profit you are raking in while asking people to work for free. i mean, they have 90% gross margins. 90%. let that soak in. ninety percent! and yet, they want me to provide content for them for free. i had to ask myself, what if they actually paid people for content, and/or to promote their site, what would their margins be then? 80% 70%? 60? those are still pretty healthy, right? for those of you who are business owners, what is *your* gross margin?? surely not 90%, and if it is, what business are *you* in? cuz i wanna switch!

which leads me to the meat of my rant: why as a tastemaker or influencer, or as i prefer, an expert in my field, am i not worthy of being compensated? especially when your own business model says you have the wherewithal to do so? don't i deserve a teensy tiny slice of sumpthin' for helping you build your business?  i know if this company's CEO asked me to decorate their own home they'd understand as an experienced professional that i would need to be compensated. i mean they *could* find someone with little or no experience to decorate it for free, but it would probably look pretty bad, and it would certainly cost more in mistakes than i charge in fees, so it would be a bad business decision, right? then why isn't that same principle applied to their website? why wouldn't they jump at the opportunity to pay a small amount to be associated with someone who is not only talented, but experienced, and an expert in their field? surely it would make their site look better than being associated with someone with no experience and no eye but who is willing to work for free? i just don't get it, and the sad thing is, i know the company doesn't care. as an experienced professional and an established social media voice, i'm going to refuse this "opportunity" but there are a hundred kids behind me who will probably jump at the chance to toil for free to get their names on a website with millions of users, and that is sad. they haven't been around long enough to realize that they are being taken advantage of, and that providing content for others without compensation nets them nothing.

i know by posting this that i might scare off potential brand partners, and perhaps even lose a few of my existing ones for being an outspoken bitch but that's a risk i'm willing to take. it's important for those of us who have worked long and hard to get where we are, that we are appreciated and valued. we are lending not only our followers, but our names, hard won experience and knowledge, and that is worth something. certainly we deserve more than the average college summer intern would get- a nice mention and a pat on the back.  (side note: don't get me wrong- sometimes, like with a college internship, it's smart to work for free). i just think that large, established companies, with funding... and profits! ought to be compensating for content, and that we, the content providers need to start to learn to say NO if there is no quid to go with the pro quo. after all, they pay their executives, they pay their shareholders, and they for damn sure pay their IT department, so it's time they start paying their content providers as well. some companies have already learned this, and i applaud you- now please go tell your friends. ;-)

and that's the end of that rant. thanks for reading, and fellow bloggers, i hope you'll join me in sometimes saying "NO".  not everything that puts your name on someone else's website is an opportunity. well, it is for them, but not always for you.

ps- for those of you guessing along at home, i have no desire to publicly name the company. if you are profitable, have 90% gross margins ,and think you don't need to compensate content providers in a tangible way, well then this post applies to you too. ;-) that said, please note this company is not currently officially in the home sector, but would like to be... 

36 comments:

Jennifer Chong said...

well said, there are definitely many of us who echo the same feelings – appreciate you saying it out loud!

David said...

I have no clue who it is (hi, I'm out of the loop) but you're right to be annoyed, and saying no was absolutely the right call.

Nita Stacy said...

I don't know why as a design professional...we are supposed to feel honored that they want our work for free. I've seen this over and over in graphic design and I do not fall for it any more. I've heard the words "this is a great opportunity for you" one too many times. I now say - "No" It's a great opportunity for you! I do not work for free. I was just called the other day by an organization wanting me to do their newsletter for free. They pay other people lots for things they need. I told them I do not do design and writing for free.

I think this was a very good rant! Something that needs to be said. Good for you!

sfgirlbybay said...

i think i know who you mean, and i told them the exact same thing. yay for us. yay for you!

Guyanesesista said...

I think you're right. At 90% profit margins they can certainly afford to pay you. I wish my profit margin was that high.

Nicole | BKLYN contessa said...

seems lately EXPOSURE is a four letter word {eye roll}

Brandon S said...

It's a good rant. No. It's a great rant. And one that, as I've stepped outside of the role of an interior designer and into the role of promoter/influencer/connector and general yenta of sorts as has recently happened, I find more so to be true.

And it's irritating. The good thing is that there are companies out there that realize the importance of having well respected faces "in the trenches". And what we'll find is that as the good companies continue to snap us up left and right the only thing left will be the luke warm leftovers and things will change.

Until then, things will only continue to change as influencers and tastemakers (and the blogging community) hold themselves in high regard and don't settle for less.

Many thanks for posting!

Chastity Valentine said...

AAAAAaaaaammmmmmeeeeennnnnn!!!!

Anonymous said...

Your so right, this needed to be said.

cheers

Margo on Vancouver IslandW

Carole Poirot said...

Fabulous and very good rant! I couldn't agree more! You might be referring to the same email I (and many, many others) received last week and it just made my blood boil. I might not be a huge tastemaker, but I have bills to pay and I do in fact get paid to work for/with companies, for blogging and styling. Spending hours creating mood boards for free for a big company is an insult to all creatives and the sooner companies realise that bloggers (and other creatives) are businesses too, the better. Thanks for putting this all into a great post. xo

MJH DesignArts said...

Fantastic Rant! And it applies to so many areas besides the design field. We all need to be compensated appropriately for our work. Thank you.
Mary

the decorated cookie said...

Woohooo! Same thing goes for food bloggers. I will occasionally provide original content for other blogger friends with whom I have a long-standing relationship, but it's "Um, no" to every other request for free work.

Carolyn Ketchum said...

This rant applies across the board. Exactly the same thing happens in food blogging and recipe development. Major brands asking us "wee little bloggers" to work for free. For "exposure". I am pretty well exposed at the moment, and I have a loyal fan base, so don't promise me exposure. Lets' talk about working together in a mutually beneficial partnership.

Philip Allen said...

Yeah... they ask because experience has taught them that there are those who will say yes. You're sending the right message and helping with the global retraining - good content is worth something. Keep it up! As the old saying goes, if you pay peanuts, you'll only get monkeys.

Annette said...

Your first response to the request was feeling flattered -- that's the selling tool used by corporate America to get free content that they can well afford to pay for. This is not just in the design field but across all genres of work. The minute someone signs on to work for free, the perceived value of paid work becomes diluted for everyone else. If you feel working for free is beneficial to you, put a time cap on how long you will do it. No one should be flattered to be asked to work for free, no matter who's asking. This is not about being sought out for being the best in your field, it's about corporations having figured out how easy it is to get free labor (even cheaper than going overseas!). The easy answer is, "Thank you, I'm flattered, but no thank you." You didn't call your company out, but I have many friends who foolishly continue to write for free for the Huffington Post for "the exposure."

Alissa said...

Bravo! I co sign every word you said.

Carol Tate said...

Beware, the corporate mindset in quest for market share, power and profit. No conscience, no heart, no sense of fairness. I'm reminded of the original 50's film "The Body Snatchers". Yes, they appear to be human, but will suck the life out of you if given the opportunity.

Interesting cbs news interview w/co-founder of One Kings Lane...Susan Feldman. Asked, "How important is it to be relentless?"..."Very important." "Am I pushing people too hard?" "I don't think it's possible...put on those blinders, and you really go for it."

One Kings Lane just received $50 mil from Angel Investors. Watch for yourself. Google cbs news interview One King's Lane.

My Notting Hill said...

ok, now I'm dying of curiosity.

Great post - hopefully others who get the offer will follow your example.

Jennifer Mehditash Dec-a-Porter said...

Ditto! Ditto and Ditto! I too have had to "just say no" lately. Some understood, and well.. others not so much. It is hard to stand up for ourselves, but then again if we don't - who will?
Bravo to you, Christian.. you are stirring up a movement!
xo

LYNDA QUINTERO-DAVIDS said...

B-R-A-V-O!! #JustSayNo! Fabulous post - AMAZING how many people keep expecting to get vision + expertise or content + followings for free. Not right - disrespectful and undervaluing time & expertise, which is funny when they approach you.

Christian - You rock and did the right thing!
xo Lynda

Uncle Beefy said...

Child! We hear you! And the gravy train is on its way to its final station, I'm tellin' ya'! More and more bloggers are getting *vocal* about this and I can't imagine any of us wouldn't understand and support you in your "rant".

The "exposure" carrot is one a lot of us have nibbled at unwittingly. (And, yes, even when we really knew better.) I did a project for a well-known magazine years ago that involved me incurring the time and cost to produce about *10 original pieces* for a holiday feature all for the promise of exposure to their wide audience. So, I mean (stars in my eyes)... YEAH! They paid for the shipping costs to and from their offices and when I received my pieces back they were, *literally*, just shoved back in the box...!?!? And, yes, ruined. I got two emailed editorial pics out of the deal. And the feature never even made it to print because of "budget cuts". And those kind of offers still come through my inbox. No doubt, they'll continue... for a while, anyway.

I do think that there is still a HUGE misconception around the vast amount of time and effort that go into producing content and maintaining a blog. And then there is the added task of dealing with the many who perpetually undervalue creative and artistic talents. Not to mention that the 'wild, wild west' element leaves many bloggers without a clue as to what is reasonable to charge or expect.

That's why this kind of conversation is so important to have. As many times as is necessary so that both newbie bloggers and courting companies will be better educated about the value we bring to the table and to get paid/pay accordingly.

Preach it! Preach!

(p.s. - Sorry for the wordy comment but, y'know, I'm chatty.)

maison21 said...

thanks for the love and support everybody! i felt the full force of COMMUNITY over the last 24 hours, and it really made me feel vindicated in my choice to go forward with this post.

xo.


maison21 said...

oh, and just a brief mention to carol tate: while i totally agree with you that the corporate mindset sometimes promotes profit over conscience, i have to tell you i've worked with one kings lane several times now and have met and interacted with co-founder susan feldman (she's delightful), as well as others in higher management, and i have to tell you that they've all been wonderful to collaborate with. OKL *gets* it and are quite supportive of their tastemaker community while providing us with opportunities to be well compensated. i think most social media players & designers who have worked with OKL would agree. i would work with them again in a heartbeat, should they ask... which they probably won't now. ;-)


Mark @nwrugs said...

Good to speak out, Christopher.

Jeanne/Cozy•Stylish•Chic said...

Wow, a HUGE kudos to you. Not only did you stand your ground, but you spread the word - good boy! It's not a rant, it's reality and thanks for getting the word out to those less experienced than yourself. As a newcomer to the blogging scene, I wonder if I'm making the right decision when I say no. As flattering as an opportunity may be, I now know to continue to stick to my guns. Thanks!

Sketch42 said...

HA, did you see that "reply to all" rant that someone emailed back to a brand a few weeks ago? Is this the same brand!

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Lesley Myrick said...

Great post, Christian! That NY Times article that made the rounds this weekend really got me thinking about the topic - and while there ARE times I'd work for free, the situation you describe definitely isn't one of them! Kudos to you for standing up to Mr. Mega-Company in a tactful but firm way.

You can read my post on the topic here, if you're interested: http://www.lesleymyrick.com/2013/10/would-you-work-for-free.html

Steven Sharpe said...

Yes! Preach. It's time that bloggers stop allowing themselves to be pimped out. We are writers. Not whores.

I too feel strongly about this, clearly haha!

susieq said...

Great post!! I cannot tell you how many times I've been asked to design for free. Love each and every word you said here.

maison21 said...

thanks everyone- i really appreciate the love and support.

spread the word!

The Pink Pagoda said...

This made my day. I'm just going to start replying with a link to this post.

Elizabeth said...

Cheers to telling it like it is!

As someone starting from scratch in a design industry, I frequently field requests from "clients" who'd like me to provide services for free, or at cost. Often I'm told, "my project would look good in your portfolio!" It's discouraging and disturbing to have creative talent and hard work undervalued like this. Sadly, calling attention to this through social media often draws criticism against the small creative- "you should be grateful for the work" and "everyone has to start somewhere." If you start by working for free, you've set a bad precedent for yourself, and for you industry.

Melissa said...

Amen! I've been one of the newbies you mention agreeing to working with brands for nothing. But I do consider myself a tastemaker now and this post really helps to justify any future collaborations I do with companies. Thank yoU!

{Hi Sugarplum!} said...

Here freaking here!!!!!

Melyssa said...

THANK YOU for writing this. I get emails asking me to work for free as part of a brand's campaign several times a week. So often that I have a stock response saved in Google Drive, so I can copy and paste the fact that I'm unable to promote them without compensation. All the points you made in your post are so valid and necessary, yet it's the first time I've heard someone speak up about this. Thank you thank you!!

Melyssa
The Nectar Collective