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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