Should you work for free?
Advertising agency Zulu Alpha Kilo has released the funny video below featuring a guy asking people who aren’t the sort of creatives who are usually asked to work on spec (those who are include writers, graphic designers, ad agencies) being asked to do free spec work.
Their reactions are pretty amusing.
Zak Mroueh, Zulu’s Chief Creative Officer & Founder writes on the site that, while his own agency has a policy against it, “spec work remains entrenched in our industry. It’s an antiquated practice that has been part of the creative world since the Mad Men era. It’s a cog in the increasingly bureaucratic procurement machine.
“We’d like to help unchain clients and agencies from this outdated process. Because we really do believe that it’s bad for clients. It’s bad for agencies. And it’s bad for the entire industry.”
Most creatives have had the experience of being asked to work for free, and they do it because they feel they have to – for the “exposure.” There are huge, multi-billion dollar outlets out there with thousands of writers working for them for “exposure.” They do it because they can. We are also expected to give away all the rights to our product – often for next to nothing so it can reused and re purposed ad nauseum for someone else’s gain.
It’s gross and it’s maddening. But it’s reality.
And, of course, non-creatives are also asked to work for free in the form of unpaid internships.
Here’s the thing, though. While I am against exploiting workers, I’m not sure the smartest course of action is to refuse all spec or unpaid work.
I’ve done plenty of both over the course of my career and it’s never actually not lead to something paying. In fact, often, when I’ve approached clients with new concepts, I’ve mocked up entire examples of what I’m talking about without being asked. I think this is just the professional thing to do, particularly if it’s difficult to explain without visuals or examples, or the person has no experience with my work. Granted this isn’t the same, because I don’t hand it over for their use, but it’s work I’ve done for nothing nonetheless.
The video suggests that nobody but creatives ever works for free or gives product away for free. That’s simply not true. I have drank many a free coffee and sampled many free foodstuffs over the course of my life. I get free bang trims from my hairdresser, and have only recently had offers for a free massage, a free eye exam, and even a free cosmetic procedure (harrumph).
It’s not unheard of by any means to offer samples in non-creative industries. And I don’t think getting or giving free stuff is a bad thing – and it definitely can lead to repeat business. Just ask McDonald’s about their McCafe.
Spec work does lead to contracts and internships do lead to jobs. It’s not necessarily in your best interest to turn them down. What is in your best interest, I think, is to know where to draw the line and when someone is taking advantage of you.
And yes, there are far too many people out there taking advantage of creatives. But I don’t think that means refusing all spec work is the answer. At the end of the day,I think giving a little can get you a whole lot in return.
What do you think? Have you worked for free and would you? Or would you ask someone to do free work? Read Zak Mroueh’s blog here and feel free to share your thoughts.
Here’s the video: