A few years ago, walking into a club I had been invited to by the promoter, I found him snapping this huge rubber band on his right hand. I asked him why the giant rubber band? He pointed to the disappointed guy walking away with his girlfriend and said he had asked to get in for free. The band was a reminder of his mantra; he could quickly clear up such ridiculous requests when he said NO, snapped the rubber band and said: " I got bills too bitch!"
Thats what he actually said because somehow people didn't see him as an actual business owner since his business was the club business. But he told me "I got kids. I got a mortgage. I got a car payment. Publix won't take my popularity as payment for my groceries".
And then my aha moment......It's amazing how people will happily ask you to work for free, especially in Miami.
Pretty much everyday, I get the call a call that goes down in this general order:
1) It starts by sucking up to me, blowing smoke, telling me how fabulous I am.......and by the way, how is your lovely daughter Sydney?
2) Next move is to compliment all the work The Circle has done, the amazingly amazing events, the awesomeness of our awesomeness, the fabulosity and diamonds in the sky of each PR campaign.
2) Then they slide into how much they wish they could afford the services of a firm as amazing us.
3) But since they can't, and since I'm such a great person....could I give them some free advice?
4) And the grand finale is when they wanna know if while I'm at it...could I do all the actual work for free too?
5) Love ya! Mean it!
Perhaps is the "I wanna be a VIP, get into the hot party for free" mentality that this city has cultivated. Its pervasive and anyone in professional services knows exactly what I'm talking about. I can already see the head nodding of every single entrepreneur that reads this blog.
Perhaps its because consultants make their living through our intellectual property. It's not tangible because it's based on experience, relationships, expertise, instinct and trial and error. But just because its not tangible doesn't mean we can just give it away. Would you go to Macy's and ask them for a free wardrobe, just because?
I've been suckered in by the above-mentioned process more than once. So, I've perfected my standard response: "Ummm...you do know we're a FOR-profit business, right?" That, I've found, puts the whole thing into perspective. That and the side eye.
Perhaps its because we're in PR and marketing. It seems flashy and fun, sparkly and exciting, all of which it is, but not until we've been grinding and had too many late nights, forgotten to eat, compiled spreadsheets, begged reporters to accept our pitch and re-worked the creative 5,329 times. We're good at what we do so perhaps to the public it looks easy and thereby easy to give away. My colleagues and I kvetch about it all the time, so sick of trying to make a living while trying to politely distinguish between those who really want/need to do business with us and have a budget to go along with that need, instead of those trying to use our good natures to get them out of writing a check.
I'm not saying I haven't tried to get stuff/work for free. I have. After all, I do live in Miami. But I try to bring value in other ways, perhaps trading services or making a connection to a potential client.
To make sure I was not alone, I asked Lisa Concepcion, a 19 year veteran as a media relations strategist who has booked clients on Oprah, FoxNews, CNN, Ellen, Letterman, Today Show, Good Morning America and every other top media outlet in America. "Coming from global PR firms as a media relations strategist, I dealt with global brands and global budgets. Miami is another world. Here business owners don't think about marketing and selling their products and services until they're in trouble. Then because they don't understand marketing, they don't understand the cost involved. So they expect marketers to offer their services for barter exhanges. Promote my business, and you can eat here free. It doesn't work. It's unprofessional. It's that simple and since it's so prevalent in Miami it sends a message that people in Miami are shady and looking to get top notch skills for free" said Lisa. "After several incidents of businesses telling me they didn't have a budget after they'd wasted 3 hours of my valuable time, I stopped prospecting business in Miami and instead started to focus on businesses based in more sophisticated markets. There, I was paid in advance, then the remainder was paid upon job completion. In business it's important to seek out clients who match the level of professionalism, service and expertise you provide. I'd never compromise my value. You get what you pay for" she added.
So, for the record, I, Suzan McDowell, happily give my pro-bono time and talents to The Overtown Youth Center, The Miami Children's Initiative, One Billion Rising, Joshua's Heart, The Sandy B. Muller Breast Cancer Foundation and Camp Waziyatah. That's it and thats more than enough. For everybody else looking for free labor and shared resources, please look elsewhere. I got bills bitch!