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The True Cost of Free
Posted By Sean Johnson On April 24, 2009 @ 8:09 am In Advice for Clients | 32 Comments
With alarming frequency, I receive e-mails asking me to provide my services for free. Very often they state that a “great opportunity” has knocked on my door and that, once that door opens, a myriad of fame and fortune will come pouring in. In other words, if I just do this one job gratis, it will invariably lead to paid work.
Big Event, No Photography Budget
Let me give you a real-life example that happened to me. One month before London Fashion Week, I received an e-mail from the press secretary of a new designer who was showing at an incredibly fancy venue in London.
It was the designer’s first show, and he was putting together an ultra-expensive extravaganza — which would ultimately amount to a 15-minute viewing experience for his well-heeled audience.
All of which is fine by me. I’m all for people creating a strong visual experience to help promote their business. Isn’t that what commercial photography is all about?
On returning the call to the press secretary, I gave her a reasonable price for the expected two hours of work, including travel, shooting and postproduction.
The press secretary apologized. She had neglected to mention in her e-mail that there was no budget available for photography.
The job, she said, would be a great chance to add images to my portfolio and to get my name in front of the fashion media, leading to paid opportunities.
Politely, I declined.
Aside from the fact that absolutely no one (apart from perhaps other photographers) would even glance to see who shot a catwalk image, runway shots don’t do much to bolster an editorial portfolio.
What saddened me most was that this designer didn’t realize the importance of what should have been his No. 1 marketing tool, photography. It ought to have been factored into the budget at the onset.
Once the memory of the designer’s big event subsided (aided by the flowing champagne), all he and his press secretary would have left to promote the brand is images. Should these really be left to the chance of finding a professional photographer who would take the job for free?
Of course, they found someone to shoot the event. I checked the designer’s Web site afterwards; it didn’t mention the photographer’s name once.
The press secretary’s offer turned out to be a bad deal for the designer, who failed to budget for high-quality photography, and for the photographer, who I’m sure got little if any business out of it.
Clients should understand that, with photography as with other services, you get what you pay for. In the current economic climate, it is more important than ever for marketers to set their brands apart — and distinctive imagery is one of the best ways to achieve this.
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