In the advertising world, there is much hand-wringing and consternation about doing work for pitches.
The basic argument is that doing work for pitches amounts to doing work for free. Of course, Creatives and many mid-size shops are aghast at this practice and want it to stop immediately. “Our creativity is our life blood,” they declare, breathlessly. “Why would we ever give it away?”
But, this approach to business courtship is only growing. It’s in no danger of dying for marketing, but instead is expanding deeper into the consulting industry, finance, accounting, and supply chain management. It’s also a rock solid way to get ahead in your own career.
And if you want to be competitive, you will embrace the idea of giving away your creativity, and charging for implementation.
Let’s look at why this is a good idea starting from the end of the process: everyone has to eat. The bottom line is that you need to be able to charge for something. Everyone understands that, and it is the whole reason that you are working, instead of playing squash, or backgammon, or watching CSI.
So, what are the right things to charge for?
Creative people want to be able to charge for ideas. And there are some people that can do it. If you are a top screenwriter, you can walk into a pitch meeting with an idea, and walk out with a green light. Andrea King and Andy Marx did just that with Squeezed and Tour de Frank in 2007.
But that is not a bankable strategy because it is not predictable. King says as much in the linked interview – you make more money selling spec scripts that are finished, vs. selling pitches, where there is just an idea.
What is a more consistent solution is to charge people for great execution. That means that your creative concepts are solid, but they take someone who really knows what they are doing to pull it off correctly. You then become the natural choice, because it was your idea, so you know how to pull it off.
Creatives think that this model devalues their work, but they couldn’t be more wrong. The creative solution is still primary to the process. Without the creative solution, there is nothing to execute. The creative solution is the sizzle. But you make money on the steak.
The truth of the matter is that great ideas are all around us. That’s obvious just from looking at the blogosphere. Blogs are the largest collection of creative thought ever created. And more than 99.999% of the blogosphere is people giving away ideas (there are a few people that blog for a paycheck, but usually the paycheck comes from writing long-form articles or opinion pieces, then blogging on top of that…for them, blogging is the frosting and their other writing is the cake).
So, while your idea might be the best idea, you won’t ever be able to see it come alive unless you give it away. Saying to a prospective customer, “we have awesome solutions; hire us and we’ll tell them to you,” is a one-way ticket to the reject pile.