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News & Views from Alchemis

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Call us for a chat on +44 (0)20 7836 3678 or Email Jim Piper or David Newman

Working for Nothing

After reading Graeme Crossley’s blog on Brand Republic yesterday which asked “Why do some brands think they deserve to get free consulting?” I thought I’d share my thoughts on the matter from my perspective as Director of Operations.

Graeme is understandably somewhat irked by his perception of an increasing trend over the last year of brand owners expecting free consulting from agencies, which as he sees it is not just an evaluation of the brand as part of their conversations about potentially working together, but wanting all of the work for free.

We’re living in pretty tough times at the moment – thousands of people are losing their jobs (including vast numbers in marketing departments up and down the country). EVERYONE is trying to keep costs down to the absolute minimum and everyone wants their suppliers to go the extra mile to secure their business.

I totally sympathise with the situation that Graeme finds himself in; realistically there is likely to be another agency that will put in extra work for nothing for the chance of ultimately winning that big brand account.

We often refer to “the benefit of the back door” or “getting under the radar” – both being descriptions of effective ways of securing decent sized new business accounts from small initial projects. Impress the brand enough and they will use you for work as and when it does come up. However, you have to make sure you have an effective new business strategy in place to nurture this relationship to fruition. We have come across many agencies in a similar situation to Graeme and our New Business Managers have built and maintained excellent ongoing contact strategies that have ultimately resulted in winning new business. I won’t deny it’s hard work – although it’s also our day job, so you won’t find many people in a better position to help you.

In his final paragraph, Graeme says that nobody who applies for a job would work for free for the first three months, so why would agencies do so for brands. Well, I remember leaving college way back in 1993 and looking for a job in the marketing communications industry. Several agencies offered to take me on for unpaid work placements for 3-6 months – the logic being that if you impressed them enough there might be a paid job afterwards but tough luck if there wasn’t and at least you’d have some agency experience under your belt. Even as recently as a few months back I read about a guy who offered to refund his salary to any employer who took him on and wasn’t pleased with his work. On top of this, the number of students doing ‘internships’ (a fancy American name for unpaid work) has risen dramatically in the past few years.

I suspect that these practices have been going on in one form or another for a long time and will continue to do so. In times of economic hardship where competition is fierce for every scrap of business the scale of the problem is magnified as the buyers hold all the cards. The ultimate goal for the agency who wants the business is to convince the buyer that appointing them will yield the greatest possible return on investment for their brand.

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