The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Charging For Your Creativity Doesn’t Make You Evil …

Of all the blog posts I’ve written over the years – and let’s face it. there’s been loads – there’s been a few I have constantly referred to.

One is Harrison Ford’s the value of value.

The other is Michael Keaton’s if you’re an employee, you’re still a business owner.

If you hadn’t worked it out by now, both are about ensuring you are not just paid for your creativity, but paid fairly.

You’d think that was obvious, but so many people seem to have forgotten that … including the creative industry, who have decided their value is better placed on the process of what they do rather than what they actually create and change.


But underpinning this is the creative person’s insecurity.

Somewhere in our psyche is the belief that if we charge money for what we create, we’re not being truly creative.

That we’ve sold out.

That we are imposters … capitalists in creative clothing.

Now there is an element of truth in all of this – because the moment you are working for someone else’s dollar, that someone has some influence over what you create. But that’s not unique to the creative industry. Nor does it mean you are selling out on your creative integrity by accepting payment for what you do.

Please note I said ‘payment for what you do’.

That does not mean we should be ignoring the needs, ambitions and goals that our clients want us to help them achieve, but it is acknowledging we should also be paid well for the creativity, craft, experience – and unique way of looking at the World – that goes into creating the work that allows us to achieve their needs in ways others can’t.

The reality is as much as many – especially in the creative industry – like to suggest money is the enemy of creativity, it’s not.

It can allow us to do amazing things.

Break new ground.

Explore new possibilities.

But more than that, while it may be differing amounts, we all need money.

And – to a certain extent – we all want money.

There is nothing wrong with that, just like there’s nothing wrong with being paid for what we do.

The real question should be how did we earn it and what did we do with it when we got it.

That’s how you can judge a persons integrity, not the fact you got paid for what you did and the talent you invested in it.

Sure, struggling may sound romantic in a Hollywood movie, but few of us want a lifetime of that and who can blame them!?

I still remember when Lars Ulrich of Metallica copped all manner of shit because he was the face for recording artists fighting against the role of Napster on the recording industry.

The insults he copped.

The distain he was thrown.

And all he was doing was trying to protect the value of his – and millions of other bands – creativity.

Why was that wrong?

Was it because, at that stage, he was already wealthy?

Is there some sort of rule to say that there is only so much you’re allowed to make before creative people need to shut up and be grateful for what they’ve got?

And what is that amount? No doubt, somewhere between ‘enough to live but not more than the rest of us’.

However somewhere along the line, society has decided to reposition creatively minded people as idealists … naive or even weak. Ignoring reality so they can wank-off on some self indulgent project that only interests them.

Which is total bollocks.

Apart from the fact I’ve never met a creative who isn’t insanely focused on the challenge they’ve been given – even if they have a very different opinion on how to get there to the client or the rest of the agency – the fact is we’ve now surrounded them with 10,000 different types of ‘strategist’, with 10,000 different opinions and agendas … which forces the conversations to be more about the importance of a discipline than the actual potential of the work.

And don’t get me even started on the fact a lot of these new forms of strategy are either [1] not really new or [2] not doing actual strategy, but executional management!

However all that aside, the reality is in all this, creative people have to take a responsibility for the situation they find themselves in.

Or, potentially even more specifically, the people who are training and developing them.

Because they are complicit in maintaining the belief your creative value and integrity is somehow linked to not being ‘diluted’ by payment. Which, when you think of it, is utterly ridiculous given value is created by what others will pay for it.

Schools … universities … agencies … everyone has an obligation to change this.

Not just for the future of their students or employees, but also for their own value.

Appreciating the economic value of what you create and what that creates is not dirty … it is the opposite of that.

It’s purity.

It means you have power in the conversation.

A right to fight for what you believe rather than what is convenient.

Creativity comes in many forms but right now, the form of ‘engineering’ is winning.

Where it’s less about what could be created and more about how you create something that has already been defined. Worse, something that has already been done.

So if you’re in the creative industry or thinking about it or know someone already in it.

Or, alternately, if you’re a teacher involved in the arts – or any subject for that matter – or careers advisor or a parent of someone who is in, or wanting to be in, the creative industry … then please read this article by Alec Dudson [the founder of Intern] because in it, he explains why ‘the economic value of creativity’ skill still remains largely absent from creative education … the impacts of that omission and, most usefully, how you can change it.

Creativity can change outcomes, possibilities and culture.

It has played a pivotal role in every great brand, product, idea and invention.

To devalue that is insane.

But not as insane as the people capable of creating it, also being complicit in it.

Know your worth. Charge your worth. Build your worth.

19 Comments so far
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Long, but good. What isn’t helping the situation is companies don’t want creatives to create, just execute. They don’t even care too much about craft, just getting the job done which means they seek the lowest price and there will always be someone who says yes to it.

The industry needs to educate on standards rather than just chase whatever cash they can get.

Comment by Bazza

Yes. But I would add very few creatives know how to charge or really value what they do, which makes the situation even harder for themselves.

Comment by George

Totally get that, which is why I think we need to start teach students the value of creativity and the right to charge for it as an equal part of all the other things they are being taught.

The point being that if they go on to want a career in the industry, they are comfortable with talking about price, value and benefits so it doesn’t just lift their personal standard of living, but the entire industries.

Comment by Rob

A different approach has to be explored because for all the narrative around companies wanting and valuing creativity, they don’t seem to value it enough to pay properly for it.

Comment by Pete

Exactly Pete. The Bank of England’s chief economist recently talked about this, but in a way that supports your viewpoint that business has a superficial understanding of what creativity is and how to encourage it.

Comment by Lee Hill

that sort of sophisticated comment doesnt fucking belong on here lee. you know the fucking standards.

Comment by andy@cynic

Good post Robert. The situation you describe is not a new one but your point schools should be teaching their students how to value their creativity in addition to teaching craft is an excellent one. I particularly like your point society thinks creatives should be paid “enough to live but not more than the rest of us.”

Comment by George

Yep. I do find it fascinating that very financially successful creative people are either defined by others as ‘talented freaks’ [the few] or sellouts [the majority].

Of course this suggests jealousy – and while I get that to a degree – it should also be something we celebrate because someone has got somewhere without having to resort wearing a suit and a tie.

Comment by Rob

It is a similar attitude people have to artists who evolve their sound as they get older. There is this attitude they are selling out to maintain relevance, but it would not be normal for them to be the same people as they were 20 years earlier.

Comment by Pete

Have you forgotten Rob’s dress sense?

Comment by Bazza

Thanks Baz.

And yes Pete, I agree. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. But then I think Queen – as recording artists – were pretty rubbish post 1984, but less because they were ‘selling out’ [though they did do that a couple of times] and more because they played in this middle ground between genres when they were at their pompous best when they went all in on what they wanted to do.

Comment by Rob

I think the reaction to Lars over Napster was down to how he approached the situation rather than why he was doing it.

Comment by Pete


He was trying to prove a point but the media liked the story of ‘millionaire rock star bully’s kids in bedrooms’.

He doesn’t regret it though.

Comment by Rob

No, it was because he was seen as a rich man being greedy. He wasn’t. And his whole industry failed to support him. Some might see parallels with the point of this post, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Comment by John

There’s also a supply and demand aspect here. I’ve always had a problem with the claim that 99% of actors are unemployed at one time – no that’s not true. What is true is that maybe 80 to 90% of aspiring actors aren’t good enough or haven’t got the breaks that allow them to be working actors. To an extent, the same applies to all creatives.

Creative activities are seen as a rewarding way to earn a living and thus there’s a great supply of aspiring creatives. In the advertising world, that leads to employers explotiing that desire and. maybe, instilling a negative view of what creatives are worth – a view that ultimately leads to the culture described in the post. Not to mention tilting the playing field in favour of those who can afford to work for pennies.

Comment by John

Totally agree. What makes it worse is that the industry that hires so many creatives, doesn’t actually support the value of it. Charging more for process than output. Valuing speed over craft. Choosing complicity over a new way to look at the world. Basically all the elements that make a creative, creative.

Comment by Rob

i get your point campbell, but being taught how to price your creativity by some fucker on slightly above minimum wage is not the person you need for decent fjucking advice. get the fuckers who made it coming in. and the fucks who pay it. then you might instil some fucking long term good shit.

Comment by andy@cynic

Being a teacher doesn’t mean you don’t know how to negotiate or place commercial value on creativity, but I take your point. Both would be good.

Comment by George

It is a good point though. Or – in American corporate language – a good build.

Comment by Rob

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