Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It's a dog-eat-dog world.

It’s now over 4 months into 2009 and I have noticed that compared to the last economic downturn, it seems that there is complete anarchy in our industry. Many creatives have been downsized, and they have now jumped into the freelance pool. Competition is fierce. Back in 2001, when I became a full-time freelancer, websites where companies can search for RFPs (and pitch against 80 others for each one), or online sites promoting ads and logos for sale (for a mere $99) did not exist like they do now. Anybody with a computer today can go after a project. And it seems as if they are. The main challenge facing our industry today is that there is no structure. We don’t have set rules and guidelines. We don’t have any form of a union. You don’t need initials after your name anymore to be considered. Many with hacked versions of Photoshop consider themselves “professionals” and have opened shop. The computer (and the design programs) was supposed to make our job easier. What it actually did was destroy a profession that was once well-respected. A free-for-all has ensued, and companies/clients are taking full advantage of this. 2 days ago, I saw an RFP for a project on a worldwide freelance site. The client wants a 1000 page booklet revised and designed. The entire budget is $250. Sounds crazy right? Last time I checked, there were 8 proposals already submitted for it. 8 designers/firms from around the globe thought this budget was worthy of their time. Seeing things like this has always infuriated me. For those of you that read the forums, I have spoken out about spec contests where designers submit free work for the chance to win prizes/money. I would be lying if I say I haven’t participated in this type of work myself in the past (the winning 2010 Vancouver Olympic logo is very similar to the Inukshuk version I submitted) but eventually, I came to the conclusion that these “contests” are nothing more than requests for free work, which undervalues our time, effort, and our profession. No other industry has this kind of crap going on, yet for some reason, we allow it to continue. A few days ago, I was competing for a large design project against another designer. The client contacted both of us by day’s end on Friday (after work hours) through email to tell us that we were selected as the final two and he would be making up his mind over the weekend. When I called first thing on Monday morning, I learned that my competition had already submitted 8-10 concepts. The client was thrilled, decided to use one of them, and I was out. 8-10 concepts, and they worked all weekend without a signed contract. How does one compete with something like this? I have two choices. I can play this silly game, or I can simply choose not to and at least lose with my dignity intact. Recently, I went out for breakfast with a good friend who was the Canadian representative of a Stock Photography company. He was recently let go after the company decided to close the Canadian division. He asked me what I thought about websites where advertising creatives (or anybody that considers themselves one) can submit ad concepts with the hope that a client will purchase them. I told him it undervalues what I do for a living. He then asked me if I have ever contributed any photography to online photo sites? I have. I dabble in photography and have actually made some decent money by contributing to one in particular. He then responded with “Why do you think I am now out of work?” He was right. It hit me like a hammer. I am an absolute hypocrite. I had no problem submitting my work to a site that undermines professional photographers with cheaper pricing, yet I complain about sites that do the same on my end. I’ve decided it is simply a dog-eat-dog world. I’m considered to be on the expensive end as a freelance creative. However, compared to an ad agency (from where I came) I am an absolute bargain. I’m going to shut up and stop complaining about these bargain basement designers with their spec-work that have been wooing my potential clients with their incredibly shameful pricing. I no longer consider them my competition and they can do whatever they please. Submit your logos to these $99 sites. Open up a chain of ad sites where companies can download amateurish concepts for pennies. Work your tail off on 50 projects with the hope that somebody uses one of your ideas. I don’t care anymore. I will now use this same philosophy and strictly go after bigger fish. The clients that want a cheaper alternative to their expensive agencies. The clients that are used to spending big bucks on their projects and are now feeling the economic pinch. I can easily do much of what they need for a lot less. I’m being undermined so I’m going to take it forward. This is my new goal. To undermine those above me, not below. Until we get some form of organization and rules as to what constitutes a professional, or a set of guidelines that we all adhere to on what should be standard rates and fees in this business, it seems at the moment, in this troubled economy, the cheapest guy will most often win. Large agencies are in trouble, I’m in trouble, we’re all in trouble. The industry as we knew it has gone down the drain. Try explaining your rates to a clueless potential client whos “cousin knows somebody who designs stuff with a computer” that quoted him $100. We need to stand up as an industry and say “no more”. To do something and improve what it has become. A governing council if you will. If a client wants something legally produced, it has to come from within the organization. Without it, companies will continue putting out RFPs for $250 and expect this to be an acceptable going rate. Are my thoughts realistic? No. It’s an old-school way of thinking and it is WAY too late. But I would rather starve than see my education, experience, and credentials worth less in the eyes of a company owner than the guy that serves them their morning latté. If we’re going to go down, I for one, will go down gracefully. Until next time, keep dreaming.