Tuesday, September 29, 2009

For What It's Worth No. 10

In my advertising days we would often hear from clients that they wanted their job "good, fast and cheap". And we would always tell clients that only one of those were possible at any one time. You might get the job "good, fast or affordable" but you couldn't get the job "fast and cheap" nor should you expect it "good and cheap".

Clients were buying our marketing and advertising expertise and while they may have an unreasonable deadline or budget or both, we had to school them that there was no way for us to do a job "good, fast and cheap".

In a time where budgets are shrinking we once again hear from clients the three little words, how do you combat that and still keep the job?

First you tell clients that you always do the job good, and sometimes great no matter what the budget, it's a matter of pride and professionalism that you approach the job giving it your very best. The second thing you explain is that you are willing to work within any budget within reason, we all understand budgets vary by client size and project and we bill accordingly. And you'll work within any reasonable timetable.

The bottom line, we're striving to do a good job within a reasonable timetable and be paid accordingly. However, if the client wants the job overnight, cheap is no longer an operative word, the client is billed more for wanting it faster. If the budget is ridiculously low then the client must sacrifice time, the job will take longer to produce you'll work the project into your schedule, not theirs. Any professional would do the same. Try getting a printer to do a job overnight and charge the same, never. Or an accountant to do your return in less time. Certain things take time, fresh ideas is certainly one of them.

Too often we take the job and never even broach the subject of more money for the job that has to be done in less time. Or to get more time if the budget is less. While this can't always be the case, illustrators in particular never seem to draw the line on what is unreasonable. Counseling the client in how long a job should take is part of the communication process between the artist and the patron.

Remember a client has no concept on how long it takes to come up with an idea--a good idea--nor do they understand the process of completing the assignment. It is your job to explain patiently how long the job should take, if there is no budge on their end then you must charge more for the project just to compensate for the sleepless night, or nights, you'll be up completing the assignment. Granted, there are clients who could care less about your sleep, but until we stop taking every assignment with unreasonable deadlines, or budgets clients will continue their habit of abusing us.

As freelancers we seem to think we have no power to change opinions or circumstance. Large design firms or advertising agencies employee client go-betweens who handle the time/money situations much as artist's reps do for illustrators, but that's not to say that as independent illustrators we cannot stand up for what is right and fair. Sometimes we're too eager to do the job and frankly, get taken advantage of. For every illustrator who stands up, the less chance there will be abuse for the rest of us. But it takes more than just a few artists doing it, it takes a mass effort to change the dynamics. It can start today or we'll be hearing for "better, faster and cheaper".

Illustrated Packaging

In searching for our next campaign feature for 3x3 I came across this wonderful, amusing package design by Saffron Consultants in Madrid. The package features illustrations by Andrew Bannecker and as a release from B-A Reps says, "Andrew and Saffron have helped Coca-Cola develop a new drink, Menos es Más, that is easy both on your wallet and the environment. Being frugal doesn’t mean being boring, Saffron has developed a joyful personality for this mighty little drink. We wholeheartedly believe “personality goes a long way”. That’s why Menos es Más is all about optimism and joy. And yes, we have magic funnels that transform birds into elephants. Just like this concentrate can make liters of refreshment from a small drop. The logic is simple, this drink takes up less space and produces less waste." Nice job all.

Friday, September 25, 2009

For What It's Worth No. 9

Back in 1985 it wasn't the ideal time to start an ad agency, especially in Houston where the oil bust had taken away most of the booming big business which naturally impacted many other smaller businesses. But I was leaving a job that paid a lot of money but one which I hated and felt there was room for a boutique agency where creative solutions were unique. It would be the second creative agency I had started.

Yes I had options, I could have moved to New York and worked in the agency's parent company but that meant moving my young kids to a city that I loved but wasn't sure if it was a good place to raise a family. Hindsight is always 20/20--it would have been a perfect move, the two kids would have been better educated and the cultural influences would have made a definite impact on a future graphic designer (my daughter) and chef (my son). I also had a wonderful job offer in Dallas but preferred the landscape of Houston so start a new advertising agency is just what I and my business partner did. Very undercapitalized but we had a sweet deal in buying an existing agency whose founder was retiring.

Within a year we had lost all but one piece of business--they were not accustomed to the type of creative work we wanted to do so one by one they left. That year we swept the local Addy show with the work we had done and people were amazed that we were able to create the body of work we did with a staff of six.

But money was always an issue, many sleepless nights worrying how we were going to make payroll, pay our quarterly taxes, pay the monthly rent, the equipment leases, all the things you worry about as a business owner. Fortunately we had received some good advice from a small town accountant on the outskirts of Houston who set up our little corporation and served as our business advisor for the first two years of business. He said: never worry about where or when the money is coming in, worry about how to solve the client's problem because if you worry about the money part you'll freeze up on the creative part. And that's the advice we followed. Money was always an issue but we grew the business from three to twenty-three employees, had beautiful office space, expensive cars, a beach house and two mortgages. All the result of doing work that we loved. And by focussing our energies on solving the client's problems in interesting visual ways it lead to more awards, recognition far beyond our borders--write-ups in Adweek and The New York Times and a successful business.

Many new businesses don't make it past the first year, thanks to the sage advice of one accountant we survived and thrived. You can too. Whether you're freelance or otherwise concentrate on the creative part.

Friday, September 11, 2009

For What It's Worth No. 8

Advertising. Marketing. Promotion. There are a lot of freelancers that aren't sold about the importance of promotion but also confused about what works and what doesn't. First it's important to think of yourself as a brand, just like any product, new or renewed, you have to make an impact on an audience. You've got to get their attention. Make them look at you. See what you have to offer. Compare that to the competition. Decide on your price worthiness. And then either buy or ignore. Too many illustrators spend far too little on promotion. They're doing one promotional mailing a year or taking one ad out in a publication or directory and waiting for the phone to ring, and far too often disappointed when no one comes calling. That's like whispering in a crowded room, no one is hearing you.

You shouldn't look at the results of one ad or one mailing to determine your expenditures on advertising. Advertising is a combined effort, placing one ad anywhere is never enough to generate sales, you need to be everywhere: Have work accepted into shows, be seen in major publications, be seen in annuals, directories, promotional pieces, email blasts. Too many illustrators do not follow the rules of successful promotion. For any piece of advertising to work it has to be seen at the minimum three times before it's even noticed, that's whether you're a freelancer, small business or a mega-corporation. It's no different for illustration. When I'm looking at say The New Yorker or The New York Times Book Review and see an illustrator I've never heard of, I make a mental note but I don't really put them into my files until I've seen them in several other publications, or a show, or from a promotional piece or an email. It takes that same three times effort to get my attention. And I'm out there consciously looking for illustrators, imagine what it's like for those who are only sometimes looking.

Yuko and Fernanda are two examples of how advertising should work for illustrators. They're everywhere. They send out announcements concerning new work, they're in shows, annuals, directories, galleries, they're seen in many places--Yuko was in a German directory for instance and I doubt seriously she got a single job from Germany, but the fact of being so visible makes all the difference. Both of these young illustrators came out of nowhere and it seems like overnight they're everywhere. Talent plays a part but they both have a smart marketing sense, I'm convinced Fernanda's is instinctive and Yuko's comes from her former life in ad agencies.

Illustrators are facing an uphill battle just to get work, to pry it out of more art director's hands and keep them from giving it to photographers or resorting to stock. Every effort you make promoting yourself is important, and jointly they can lead to you being successful. It's not any different from any brand out there, the more you see a new product, the more buzz the product has, the more inclined you are to try it. Advertisers just want you to try their product once as they are convinced you'll be a repeat customer. Illustrators are no different, unfortunately too few think of themselves that way.

Making some basic changes in how you promote your work can mean all the difference. Especially now. Recessions are times of unleashed creativity, ad agency art directors are looking for new ways to market products and services. From personal experience I know that clients are looking for different ways to market themselves in a down economy, illustration can be one of those ways. Do yourself a favor and be visible. Be everywhere. You will be rewarded and so will the industry.