Creative Professionals Don't Work for Exposure

My bank is a bit demanding. They expect me to pay my mortgage with actual money.

Ditto my utilities providers. They provide me with electricity, water, and phone service, and I give them money too.

They're not interested in alternative forms of payment. I can't take 100 gallons of rainwater to my water company, and my cable company won't let me pay my bill with two goats and a chicken.

They certainly wouldn't be interested in providing their services in return for "exposure." That is, I can't just tell my friends and family about the wonderful job my mobile phone provider is doing in exchange for unlimited data each month.

Most companies will donate money as corporate sponsorship for a charity event, sports team, or anything that gives them community and public relations exposure. But that's different from asking a creative professional to do their job for free in exchange for exposure.

Then, exposure is something you die from, because you can't afford your house anymore.

No, creative professionals need to be paid actual money in exchange for the things we do. Asking them to work for free are one of those things that are Just Not Done. It's bad form, especially when the person making the request has plenty of money to pay in the first place.

Marla Maples committed this faux pas this past week, when she asked a professional hair stylist to provide styling and makeup for her and her daughter, Tiffany Trump, in exchange for "exposure" on Inauguration Day.

Maples asked Washington hair stylist, Tricia Kelly, to provide her services in exchange for Maples mentioning Kelly on her social media accounts. They had originally agreed to a $350 fee, but Maples instead asked for the freebie. Kelly was so incensed at what she called Maples' "entitled behavior" that she shared her story with the media.

As a result, Kelly got more exposure by refusing to style their hair than if she had actually done it. Because there are 462,000 Google search results versus Maples' 31,000 Twitter followers.

It's real simple. Asking a creative professional to work for free is like farting in church: it's rude, vulgar, and people will give you the stink eye.


It may seem easy, or like anyone can do it — I'm talking about creative work, not farting — but as a professional writer, I can tell you there are plenty of educated adults who couldn't write a clear set of directions out of a tunnel if you spotted them two tries.

Similarly, I may have a digital camera, and a finger to press the little button, but that doesn't make me a photographer. I have photographer friends who work at their craft, putting in hours of work, even though their actual job only takes one-one hundredth of a second. So I know better than to compare the things I shoot on my my phone's camera to the masterpieces created on my friends' $2,000 laser-guided art box.

Creative professionals meet the true definition of the word. We're some of the best in our field, and people pay us a living wage to actually do that work. We don't work for free, because we have bills to pay and families to take care of.

That means the exposure we're offered is not worth it, because it doesn't actually get us anything useful. I've been asked by new online magazines to write free articles for the exposure.

I told one of them, "I've got tweets with bigger readership than your entire magazine. Maybe you should pay me to tweet about you."

They never responded.

Creative professionals are in a weird place. What we do seems fun. We create, design, and chronicle the things happening around us. We make up stories people love to read, or take pictures and paint paintings of things people love to see. We write songs that people love to hear.

But we don't actually produce anything, like a car manufacturer or restaurant owner, or solve problems like a plumber or a lawyer. So it's easy to think that what we do isn't real, which makes people think we should be grateful to work for free.

Except this is how we make our living. We have certain skills that people want, to solve a problem they have, and they're willing to pay for it. And we have only so many hours each week we can earn that money. So any time we work on things that don't earn money means that we can't pay our mortgages or feed our families.

Think of it this way: imagine I come to you because I needed your professional help. Whether you're a plumber, accountant, cook, or machinist, I want you to take three days off work, completely unpaid, and do that same work at my house. In exchange, I'll tweet a couple times about what a great plumber, accountant, cook, or machinist you are.

Would you do it? Would you give up three days' pay so I would tweet about you?

Of course not, because you have family to take care of and obligations to meet.

But if you're a farmer, maybe we can come to some arrangement. I have some extra goats and chickens I need to get rid of.





You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

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