Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Money for nothing. Thoughts for free.

We have a client who, through no fault of their own, suddenly has a marketing problem. We’re not on a retainer, and they aren’t our largest client. But they are one of our favorites. We like the people and the product and usually get a chance to do good work for them.

So when they called with an urgent request to send some artwork to their e-newsletter vendor so they could send something out to try and address the problem, we gave it our immediate attention.

That was yesterday. Then yesterday afternoon, last night and this morning, I struggled with myself. Because what they are going to do with that e-newsletter isn’t enough to solve this problem, I don’t think. We had another idea. Maybe a better idea. Certainly a simple, low-cost easy-to-do idea.

And that’s the problem. Like most of us out here in agency-land, we don’t get paid for any unsolicited thinking (ideas) we give this client. In this case, the creative and production fees we might get if they go ahead with our suggestion wouldn’t be much. They don’t have much to throw at the problem. So a solution that doesn’t cost a lot is a big part of our idea.

In fact, it’s ironic that in the entire equation here, the single most valuable part of the whole thing is the one part we wouldn’t get paid for. The initiative, original thinking and generation of a creative solution to solve a marketing problem. That’s the valuable part. Not the production.

I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again. The value that we bring to our clients is not just in copywriting, art direction and production. It’s in thinking and ideas. And as long as clients continue to believe that our compensation should come from production (and this is only marginally different than that old 15% commission thing) they will continue to expect ideas for free. Who could blame them? But should we keep our ideas to ourselves unless they wave a fistful of money at us?

In this case, our client didn’t ask or expect us to come up with anything for free. That was on us. And in the end, I sent them an e-mail outlining the idea. I just couldn’t help myself.

But as much as I like this client, I can’t shake the feeling that maybe I just gave something away.


Scott Robinson said...

Years ago, the Director of Photography at the National Geographic would look at photographers work and begin quizzing them for their ideas. He would say, “I’m up to my ankles in photographers, it’s ideas I need”.

It seems we need to be viewed as more than just a photographer or copywriters.

Could there be a case made for an ala Carte set of options. Maybe your dull crummy idea for $ X or a really good idea for $ X plus 100% increase. In some casers I think a high base fee would be a good starting point…

Kelly said...

Often, the short term loss to the agency can be greatly outweighed by the recurring revenue of a resultingly grateful and loyal client.

(but not always)

Woody Hinkle said...

Very good point Kelly. But I think I might reverse it to "sometimes the short term loss is outweighed . . . but not always." You sure can't put a price on loyalty. That's the truth. And recurring revenue is worth a good idea for free here and there.

But if a client knows you'll give him or her an idea now, why should they pay you for it in the future? Price is the easiest thing to give away and the hardest thing to get back.