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Saying No to No Budget

07/09/12 Agency
by Gemma Germains

Some of you may have followed the Twitter conversation we entered into on Wednesday morning with a Liverpool business who tweeted the following:

"I want to write a cookery book! Does anyone know any amazing illustrators that want to work with me? Payment in Fentimans drink and food."

Our response of "amazing illustrators generally like to be paid in money. Landlords don't like being paid in fizzy pop" kick started a discussion about no budget work that needs to be extrapolated past 140 characters.

It's a bit of a cliche, but just imagine saying the same thing to a member of the construction industry.

"I want to open a restaurant! Does anyone know any amazing electricians, carpenters and plumbers that want to work with me? Payment in Fentimans drink and food."

It doesn't really have the same ring.

The no budget job isn't new, at Mercy, we've been batting away offers for 3 years now, and spent the previous years convincing ourselves that this particular no budget job would lead to better things, would be a good opportunity and would vastly improve our portfolio. Well it doesn't, it never does. The reasons why have been argued far better elsewhere and I won't repeat them here, although you should definitely check out this, this and this.

One of the arguments for working for free that was raised on twitter was the opportunity for profit share that could arise from a creative partnership of this kind.

Any profit share agreement is a risk, but wandering blindly into a profit share agreement with someone you just met off Twitter simply increases that risk tenfold. What pays your rent and bills is someone else's sideline to the day job that keeps them afloat. Where do you stand when their day job takes precedence over their creative hoorah?

Ironically, we're in the middle of a profit share project with a startup at the moment. The difference is, we have a history with these people. As paying clients they were, and continue to be a dream to work with. We trust their vision and have first hand experience of seeing how they conduct themselves in a business environment. We've removed as much of the risk as possible and are still aware we may never recoup.

Commissions that offer ‘great exposure,' or ‘an opportunity to improve your portfolio' aren't just a minor annoyance. They have the potential to destabilise our industry. Let's say for example you illustrated that cookery book, and on the back of that book caught the eye of a paying client. Lets say they had a £2k figure in mind for this commission but caught wind of the fact you're putting it out for nowt. Not only will you be offered a dramatically lowered fee, but this commissioner will continue to offer dramatically lowered fees for all future commissions, bringing everyone else down to your ‘No budget? No problem!' level.

I don't need to tell you what happens to the talent pool and the UK's reputation as design pioneers when the talent can't afford to feed itself.

That being said, its very easy for us to dictate all of this from our Wenger Wishbones, smashed at lunchtime on expense account cocktails. Just how does one say no to no budget? As always, we have a couple of handy hints.

1. Just say no

Having a clear idea of how much work you need to do a month to survive, to live comfortably or to live well enables you to judge just how draining no budget work is. Saying no sends a clear message to the client that your talent has a value, and they need to respect that.

2.Call them out

On Wednesday, on Twitter, I was actually being a bit naughty. I could have sent the Twitee a nice email outlining exactly why their Tweet was misguided, but a public broadcast like that really helps us nail our colours to the wall when it comes to no budget work. If we all make enough of a fuss about these requests for unpaid work then perhaps clients will think twice before risking a sneering and tutting from the design community.

3. Educate the client.

Are any of you reading this old enough to remember not wearing a seatbelt, or just how many fags your mum used to smoke around you? Everyone else did it and nobody was telling them it was wrong. A lot of the time, the client doesn't even realise the impact of what they're asking. Act as a guide, share your experience and educate the client as to the reason why their commission will bump you one step closer to the breadline.

Obviously its not always easy to say no, especially when there isn't very much else on the horizon, but believe us when we say it gets easier with practice. It also, at times becomes quite enjoyable.

Say it with us...

No, no, NO! N. O. No thanks, nope, not interested. Nah. Geddouddahere!