I’ve been noticing something dangerous happening, and it’s been happening for far too long. After reading this open letter by an artist who was offered the “opportunity” to work for Oprah for free, I finally lost it. It’s time to cut the shit.
Freelancers, bloggers and local artists know the scenario well. A Marketing contact from an A-list company or celebrity contacts you with a brief or other can’t-pass-up opportunity.
If you’re savvy you’ll ask. But if you’re not savvy, you may just get caught up in the excitement of an offer to be part of a high-profile project and forget to ask, “How much will you be paying me to work against this brief?”
If you do ask, more than likely you’ll hear the Marketing contact try, very convincingly, to sell you on the amazing benefits of working against the brief for “exposure” or a “portfolio piece”. This is utter horseshit. Don’t fall for it.
Here’s where things get really bad. If you smell the horseshit and try to cut a deal, you may be guilted into believing you’re a selfish capitalist pig whose only concern is making money. Because if you're like me, you probably already bathe in all of your tons of money and then roll around in bed with it every night. And, really, the high-profile project in question is for a very good cause, or will serve to raise awareness, or will just bring unselfish lovely hope and joyful tidings to all (how could you ask the company or celeb worth billions and making millions more off this project for money?!). Or you may be made to feel bad for asking to be paid because somehow the multibillion-dollar company or celebrity doesn’t have a very big budget (you selfish artist—your name might as well be Ayn Rand).
The scenario happened to me twice, with two very large multinational retail chains. Both were interested in my photography and recipes. Neither wanted to pay.
So here is my short and sweet message to all freelancers, bloggers and local artists around the world:
You are not selfish or greedy for wanting to be paid for your work. Just because your name isn't known internationally, or even nationally, doesn't mean you're worth peanuts. The most important thing you can ever do for yourself is to know your true worth, speak up for yourself and ask to be treated with respect. Work hard, treat good clients well, give freely to others, be charitable and kind, do some pro-bono work for nonprofits and local small businesses you love, be nice to people who like your work, but never let yourself be taken advantage of. Especially for "exposure".