Yesterday, someone uttered these words (with glee) to me over the phone: “We’ve found someone who agreed to design (our entire campaign) pro-bono.”
If the organization were a not-for-profit, I would be the first to nod and clap. We’ve done a ton of pro bono work for non-profits and cool startups with very little capital, and we kind of enjoy it. Call it good karma. (Also call it freedom: When you aren’t really being paid, your own artisitic license carries a lot more weight, often resulting in bolder and more effective designs.)
But this is not a NFPO. This is an event management company with a HUGE contract to produce and market a HUGE event with an illustrious history, right here in Greenville. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why any company in their right mind and with the weight of such a prestigious national event squarely on their shoulders would find it exciting to work with someone desperate enough to work for free. Wasn’t this kind of thing in their budget? I’m quite certain that it was.
I also question what self-respecting design firm or creative agency would agree to take on a project of this scope “pro-bono“. (Sure, the exposure might be great, but… if you have to give your work away in order to get the contract, maybe you ought to find a different line of work.) It isn’t like there’s a shortage of work or clients between Atlanta, Columbia and Charlotte. Giving work away to NFPO’s is one thing. Giving it away to outbid everyone just to add a notch to your belt is lame. It’s also a pretty poor business decision.
Shame. Seriously. Shame. Shame on everyone involved.
The old adage of “you get what you pay for” may very well be pretty hot on everyone’s mind in a couple of months, when this pro-bono work surfaces… Although… I’ll be the first to concede that it might end up looking great. (You never know. It could happen.) But it’s pretty damn unlikely.
It’s a shame too, because Greenville has some pretty kick-ass design talent (aside from F360, check out the “buckets of talent” section in this blog’s sidebar). Between Brains On Fire, Penland, Bounce, Tenth Planet and Fuel, surely, someone could have turned this thing into a work of art without charging obscene amounts of money. (Let’s hope no one from this list is the “We’ll work for free” culprit.)
But back to the client’s state of mind. When you’re looking for someone to design banners and flyers for your tenth grade school dance, pro-bono makes sense. When you’re dealing with the kind of project that can make or break the reputation of a city (and your own), I’m not sure that’s the wisest course of action.
But this could be the exception to the rule. We’ll see.
We’ll revisit this little topic in a few months, when this mysterious pro-bono work surfaces. If it turns out to be great, I will be the first to admit it, and yes, I will devote an entire post to eating crow, at least on the design end of things. (I still think that giving work away for free in this type of instance is ridiculous.) If, on the other hand, the design turns out to be as bad as I expect it to be… well… um… I guess I’ll just shake my head at yet another really, really bad and inexcusable decision from “professional” people who really should have known better, and give everyone my best “I told you so” face.
There’s a big difference between being the lowest bidder, and being the lowest common denominator. Greenville really deserves better than these types of backwoods remedial business deals.
Oh the humanity.