Giving Your Work Away

Consumers, those hot new creatives taking over the business, need to improve their compensation agreements or suffer the consequences: Chapter 11 and penury.

To date, You the Consumer’s most visible creative work has been for Doritos. For such a new “agency,” having a spot on the upcoming Super Bowl signals that You the Consumer truly has arrived.

But, and it is an ominous but, have you seen what the agency is earning for its efforts to put a spot in that multimillion dollar time slot? Have you seen, for that matter, what the efforts have been? Have you seen what You the Consumer’s salaries and bonuses are? What its ROI has been? What struggles it’s endured to earn Advertising Age’s epigonish Agency of the Year designation (following Wired and Time’s awards)?

To get just this one spot on the air for the Super Bowl, You the Consumer created a presentation gang-bang-worthy of Lennen & Newell in its prime. The agency wrote, produced, edited, mixed music and sound, and … and … and provided the casts for more than 1,000 spots (1,060, if you are counting). Not 1,060 scripts nor 1,060 storyboards nor 1,060 “just off the top of my head ideas,” but 1,060 air-quality, completed commercials—to time—that You the Consumer’s client can chew over, run up flagpoles, expose to focus groups and, incidentally, run throughout the world on its Web site.

It is rare that the entire industry can view a compensation agreement because those documents usually are confidential, or as confidential as anything can be these days, the post-Sandy-Berger-stuff-those-classified-documents-under-a-trailer era.

For doing all this work, You the Consumer will make $50,000 gross revenue. My unaudited calculations of the hours and the number of people working on the presentation yields an hourly rate lower than the minimum wage ($1) when I was working at the Abacrombe Flag Factory sweat shop on 11th Avenue and 44th Street, during the summer of Hawaii’s admission to the Union, while the rush was on to get new 50-star flags out to an eager public who hadn’t welcomed a new state since the year before.

Astoundingly, although You the Consumer will send five two-person teams down to the Super Bowl, no one is providing them tickets to the actual game. They will have to make their way with the scalpers if they are football or spectacle fans. Lest you think I am putting you on, the compensation agreement clearly states, and I quote from that agreement, “Tickets to Super Bowl XLI are not included.” On the other hand, a close reading of the rules reveals to me that the team’s attendance at a “private Super Bowl viewing party” is entirely voluntary, but what self-respecting agency people would go to the game if their clients are attending a “private Super Bowl viewing party.”

Also noted is that “All travel must be completed on the dates specified by sponsor” or $10,000 gets forfeited for each team not completing the required travel. The client provides “round-trip coach air transportation” to the party in Miami, but the compensation agreement (which you can view online) makes it clear the creative teams don’t necessarily get to fly there. Bus, train, car, bicycles are possible ground alternatives if the team resides in proximity to Miami. That “proximity” remains undefined, which was surprising to me only because the agreement painstakingly goes to lawyerly lengths to define a day as “the 24 hours between 11:00:00 CT p.m. and 10:59:59 p.m. CT throughout.”

You the Consumer, of course, has offices all over the country, and thus, avoids the stifling effects of centralized management that has an HQ. There appeared to be several teams, in fact, from the new ad citadel Boulder, Colo. But my favorite remained the team that works out of the best advertising venue of all: Billings, Mont.

The late Richard Raboy used to have a piece of advice for his friends who left their cushy jobs and started their own agencies. “M’boy, people will come to you with interesting products and services and opportunities. They will see you as eager to show your stuff, eager to get your work in The Times or The New Yorker or on local television. They will wheedle you and handle (note: pronounced like “fondle”) you, and you’ll give your work away because you enjoy what you’re doing, have a passion for it, and they know it, they smell it.”

You the Consumer has passed through that stage of an agency’s development. Next steps are for You the Consumer to get in media pitches, do planning and negotiating of time and space. Do polling and research. Travel to Cannes. Join the 4A’s. Hire some tough business folks to avoid efforts to mandate $10,000 as the bar (Quiznos also paid that to You the Consumer’s winning team), much like 15 percent and 17.65 percent were settled compensation figures of the past.

The future then will be bright for You the Consumer. If I were young and hadn’t tossed my portfolio, I’d call Judy Wald or Phil Growick at Jerry Fields and send it out today.