mADwoman advertising

November 7, 2009

Keith Lane among the Lizards

In “Living the Creative Life,” a compelling interview by Shawn Read at CDIABlog,  that maddest and most delightful of madmen Keith Lane recounts a recent experience pitching to a major corporation:

. . . I got a call from an unnamed corporation, a CEO, let’s call him Chaz, that offered me a new advertising campaign. It was a freezing cold sleety day. My windshield wiper snapped off.

I pulled into the building.  The wind was blowing 50mph. The parking lot was filled with European cars. I went into this boardroom. Even the women at this place were named Chaz, everyone had the same gray suit. I was soaking wet, freezing.

Chaz, the head of the company, said, “I’m so glad you could make it. Our sales tumbled due to the horrific economy. We’d like to rent your brain for three months. You develop our entire ad campaign and we’ll gladly reimburse you if the economy turns around.”

I then pulled an Alec Baldwin from GlenGary Glen Ross.  I said: “Put your blackberries down.”

It was dead silent.

“You are a for-profit corporation.  I do a lot of pro bono work. You all garner really nice salaries. If you all took 20% pay cuts, you could afford me.

“Or:  you could leave everything and come work for me for three months for free, and then, maybe, I’ll pay you. Want to take me up on that offer?”

Dead silence. Corporations who are employing this reptilian strategy need to stop doing this to people in the creative industry because it is disgraceful behavior and they should be ashamed of themselves.”

Kudos! to Keith, for standing up to these Lizardim, and to Shawn Read, for a great interview.

Keith’s account got me wondering:  what prompted Chaz & Co. to consider making such an absurd and insulting suggestion?

They’d hardly go to a restaurant and say, “We’ll have the coquilles Saint Jacques, and if you are so fortunate that they meet with our approval, we may pay you for the meal.”

Perhaps the business world’s increasing reliance on interns is responsible for this assumption that they can get something for nothing.  In a down market, poorly managed businesses develop a kind of myopia; they make decisions with long-term impact on the basis of short-term thinking.  Rather than focus on the profits great creative work will generate over the long term, they fixate on the bottom line for the next quarter.  Rather than hire a professional with significant personal investment in his own and his client’s success, the Chaz’s of the world think:  “We can get an intern to do the same work for free!”

Now, Chaz is subject to no such confusion about value when it comes to his personal financial choices.  You’ll not find him going to the local école de beauté to get a $10 hair cut.  When it comes to what really matters to him — his personal brand — he invests well.

But when it comes to making decisions regarding the corporation that pays him lavishly enough to keep him in Gieves & Hawkes suits & have a standing weekly spa appointment at the Cranwell, for Chaz & Co., cheap trumps quality.  Unlike his personal brand, when it comes to the business he works for, he’ll put the image of his company at risk, at a particularly perilous financial time, entrusting it to those least able to procure decent compensation.

In 5 years, Keith Lane Creative will still be around, and will be pursued with even greater vigor by wise clients who know what talent’s worth.  Chances are, Chaz will have found another comfy rock on which to absorb some warmth and seem almost human.

What won’t be around, however, are corporations that don’t understand there are few business risks more perilous than trusting your company’s image to those with talent so minimal they have to give their work away.

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8 Comments »

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Laurie I really appreciate it! I had a great time interviewing Keith. I’m just starting out in the photography world, but people’s unwillingness to pay for creative talent seems to be a problem in both Advertising and Photography.

    Comment by Shawn Read — November 8, 2009 @ 2:47 pm | Reply

    • Hi, Shawn. It seems to me that this disjunction occurs when a business turns itself into a bureaucracy, in the hopes of managing risk. Of course, in doing so, it kills off the qualities necessary for competitive success.

      Looking forward to reading more of your columns, and to seeing your photos!

      Comment by mpr19 — November 17, 2009 @ 2:11 pm | Reply

  2. Dr. Morrow’s diagnosis of our industry’s current state of affairs is tragically true. Executive compensation for poor performance and strategic missteps is beyond understanding. Leaders with vision and a strong moral compass are sorely needed now.

    Thank you, Laurie, for your insight and thoughtfulness.

    Comment by Lajla LeBlanc — November 16, 2009 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

    • Lajla, thanks so much for your comment. I used to think internships were a good idea, a means of getting talented kids fast-tracked in a new profession. But the system has turned it into this kind of gladiator death match, which is lose/lose/lose (kid/pro/client/consumer) all round.

      Comment by mpr19 — November 17, 2009 @ 2:09 pm | Reply

  3. Lately, I’ve been running into a lot of “We just want the big idea. We take it from there.” And they don’t quite understand why I take a pass. Maybe next time I’ll tell them, “This is how you sell steakknives, Bubbie.”

    Comment by Lew Cohn — November 17, 2009 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

    • Great answer, Lew! Anybody dopey or desperate enough to fall for this ploy isn’t apt to do the company — or themselves — any good.

      Comment by mpr19 — November 17, 2009 @ 2:04 pm | Reply

  4. Sickening.

    I remember Keith calling me up right after the interview lol. It’s something tho for myself that I’m nervous about as a 7 month old business owner. I feel as tho this is a growing problem in our industry.

    For instance this past week we been trying to get this “chaz” account. Well we spent a good amount of time prepping for the call, doing background research, ect ect.

    At the end of the day this is what they wanted:

    1. Immediately help us to design our mall sales units for maximum exposure.

    2. Immediately increase our on line presence for “Chaz” to drive holiday sales (shopping sites, social networking, whatever works….you’re the expert).

    3. Other “Chaz” items:
    – Improve site, links, etc.
    – Improve primary packaging through add ons and secondary rework
    – Strategize and prepare for 2010 plan to include huge on-line and at event presence
    – Prepare new promotional materials for use in 2010…items like hand outs, blotter cards, VOC’s, in-carton inserts, in-store merchandising materials, product brochure, etc.

    4. “Chaz’s other new product line”:
    We are at ground zero this is what we need:
    – Logo
    – Primary & secondary packaging
    – Promo materials
    – Event marketing
    – Ads
    – On line strategy

    After everything is good to go and we start talking budget the truth comes out.

    Between 5-7k with a guarantee that they will sell 3,000 units of there product by mid December! Whats the date?

    November 18.

    Comment by Kaufmann — November 19, 2009 @ 12:24 am | Reply

    • Cripes: it’s like ole Chaz randomly threw together a shopping list out of the Table of Contents of his girlfriend’s Advertising 101 text (“Ooh, Chazzy, don’t forget social networking. You totally need social networking”). Too bad the offer wasn’t written, as it would at least have been fun to point out the obvious typographical error in “$5,000” — that the figure’s off by at least one zero.

      Now, the date is just plain funny. That’s the tipoff these people are not merely pathologically cheap, but are about to drive whatever company they’re in SPLAT! into the ground. (This isn’t an economy for amateurs.) In fact, I’d be sorely tempted to send the owner of the business a lovely funeral arrangement (a nice big heart of white carnations, say), expressing sympathy over the loss of business that he’s about to experience.

      BTW, Boldwerks’ graphics are just wonderful. Superb vodka campaign — very funny, clever, sharp, terrific graphics work. And I love the construction of the “B” on your homepage. These people are absolute fools not to have made you a realistic offer — and made it in enough time to help them move their product.

      Comment by mpr19 — November 19, 2009 @ 2:07 am | Reply


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