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January 31, 2014
I'll Pay for It...If I Like It
 
This isn't another rant about how hard the influence business has become. No, it's not going to be about how we, as insiders, are the ones who, in fact, make it harder by devaluing our work to prospective clients.
 
Why would any person in our business bitch and moan about anything right now? It's time for the Super Bowl. It's our showcase, isn't it? Unlike industry awards shows, it's the one time of year when the general public and the national media pay attention to us as a group and actually recognize us for our work.
 
In fact, it's the only time of year we sit in front of the TV with friends and family and discuss the merits and shortcomings of the work. Ah, the absurdity of discussing advertising with…with… regular people! It's palpable!
 
Well, who are the experts? That question seems even trickier these days than ever.
 
Throngs of new “brand gurus” on LinkedIn and other sites will say that the question has been answered. The shift in advertising budgets from content created and shared by agencies and their respective creative and media departments to social media where content is developed, curated, and shared by users clearly supports the argument that “the user” is the expert. “Take that, you pompous ad guy, we the people are now in charge of this castle!”
 
Does sharing content really make you an expert on motivating purchase behavior? Does creating and posting a video of your dog licking peanut butter out of your girlfriend's belly button make you a Creative Director?
 
Of course not. Even if you get 16 million hits. Users are not experts, but they do influence opinions. And they do bring heat to products. And they do grab eyeballs. And that's all good, but crafting the “message” is where years of training, learning, and doing make all the difference, not to mention understanding how to craft stories based on strategic insights developed by consumer research.
 
Speaking of consumer research, Anthony Bennett, the Harvard-trained and Ogilvy Schooled owner of RedSky Insights, points out that “the marketer is still the expert based on science, research, and experience. But the race is on. The industry has to keep moving forward.”
 
Dan Howald, Managing Director at Scarlet Heifer and veteran of agencies such as FCB, Y&R, Grey and Siegel + Gale, concurs. “As professionals basically studying human behavior for a living, we’re still in position to lead, not just follow our end users.” 
 
This expertise on the marketer's end has tremendous value, and always will, so long as we ourselves recognize that we have the keys to turning that value into business results. So, why do we as agencies or freelancers agree to give our expertise away for free so often? Forget about charging for work during new business pitches; it's becoming harder to even engage a prospective client without being asked to “show me how you would do this for my business” as a condition of even moving along in the potential hiring process. 
 
Go buy a hot dog at Giants Stadium. Tell the vendor you'll pay for it after you take a bite and if you like it. 
 
Tell the doctor at your next visit that if she doesn't cure your flu you simply don't feel like you have to make your copayment. “Cure me and then I’ll pay.”
 
Okay, I guess I am ranting a little, Super Bowl haze or not. A lot is written against the practice of giving work away. Yet it's the very same people (readers of boards like Talent Zoo) that ultimately decide whether or not to do spec work all the time. And when push comes to shove and they're faced with losing a prospect, guess what happens? They cave in. And, by the way, I count my company in here as well, unfortunately.
 
And because one caves in, the others feel like they have to do it as well to compete. And what's the byproduct of that? Clients expect it. That's why they ask.
 
So can the industry and freelancers grow some collective balls on this or not? I don't know.
 
As we sit around the television on Sunday night dissecting the spots, consider this: We have some sway in this economy. We can stop this devaluing of our expertise if we all play together. If we can figure out how to stop acting like a bunch of hungry squirrels hunting for the same nut, maybe we can. Who knows?
 
One thing I do know: If the game sucks and I call the cable company to tell them I don't want to pay them for carrying it, I'll get a lovely pink cancellation letter in the mail faster than Peyton Manning can read a defense.

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Steve Biegel develops transformative ideas through persuasive communications programs to help change consumer behavior, and has done so throughout his career. Steve is a battle-tested thinker with a broad perspective on the industry who can infuse others with creative energy while applying it to the details of the craft. Steve helped hatch some of the most effective campaigns for brands of all sizes and shapes. His ambidextrous approach to creative problem solving through digital, social, and traditional mediums is built on provocative ideation that surprises, informs, and rewards audiences. Steve is co-founder and Creative Director at Scarlet Heifer, a NYC digital communications boutique. Contact him here
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