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

You Don’t Get What You Pay For …

The picture above is a well known internet image that reflects the value of using professionals.

It’s right.

But where it’s not entirely accurate is that in the real world, what’s happening more and more is that rather than ending up with an image of a horse drawn by a blind, drunk, 5 year old … clients are getting a beautifully image because the professional has been forced to lower his price to get the work.

It’s shit.

What’s worse is that many of these highly talented, exceptionally trained professionals have been made to forget their own value.

It doesn’t happen immediately, it’s often a slow, drawn out process – but the end point is the same, they treat their craft as a commodity. Not because it is, but because they’ve been made to think that way.

When I started working with Metallica, their management asked for my rates and costs.

I gave it to them.

They told me I was a fool and I needed to triple it.

Let me be clear, I thought it was a fair cost – I wasn’t knowingly lowballing myself – and yet here I was being told it wasn’t just low, it was THREE TIMES LOW.

I said I couldn’t do that, it was in-line with market rates and I felt it was fair … to which they asked me a question that changed the way I value what I do.

“Do you think your work and your experience is better than the market?

I knew if I said no, they’d ask why they were working with me, so of course I said yes.

I have to admit, I felt a bit weird saying it, but there were 3 reasons that pushed me to do it.

1. I really wanted to work with them.
2. It was obvious they thought I was worth that amount.
3. Without being arrogant, my experience is pretty huge.

Now the reality is my fee was still a fraction of what many people in the industry charge, but for them to do that when they could have just accepted my fee and said nothing – especially as they knew I wanted to work with them – is something I will forever be grateful for.

It also means I work harder for them, to both repay their faith and keep justifying my rate.

Clever sods.

Since this moment, my relationship with charging for what I do has literally done a full 180.

It’s why I was able to take on a procurement department when they tried to position me as ‘just another supplier’.

It’s why I enjoyed doing it.

It’s also why I was happy to do it in such a mischievous way.

For people who worked with me before – especially at cynic – this shift is amazing.

I was always George’s worst nightmare.

Agreeing to any price if the opportunity excited me.

It’s why I was banned from my own company when dealing with clients about money.

It’s why I still apologise to George for what I did.

Because I was not just undervaluing my talent, but everyone else’s too.

I know it’s hard, but the only way we will educate clients to pay what creative talent deserves – which, let’s not forget, it still a fraction of what they happily pay consultants who don’t ever do the work they recommend – is to give them the standard their budget actually should pay for.

For example the horse at the top of this page.

Because craft is not an expense but an investment.

An investment that doesn’t just lead to better work, but work that lets your client achieve more from it. Whether that’s charging a price premium or simple making more people more interested in what they do.

As Harrison Ford said, the most important thing we can learn is the value of value.

29 Comments so far
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you took more money off me than 2 fucking divorces. prick.

Comment by andy@cynic

That is the sort of achievement I need to put on my resume.

Comment by Rob

You’re almost forgiven.

Comment by George


Comment by andy@cynic

Yes, I noted that too.

Comment by Rob

and where the fuck is my apology campbell?

Comment by andy@cynic

Still looking for it.

Comment by Rob


Comment by andy@cynic

With Rob’s eyesight, you will be waiting a long time.

Comment by DH

It’s got to be tax efficient for them to pay you more.

Comment by John

That horse looks like a Billy illustration.

Comment by Bazza

too fucking good for him.

Comment by andy@cynic

The reason companies get away with this is because there’s always someone who will undermine everyone else to take the money.

Comment by Bazza

And for many it is not a decision made for survival, but to hit a personal bonus trigger.

Comment by George

who do the fuckers who keep short changing talent think will be able to afford their premium priced bullshit if they keep short changing the people who they want to buy it? small minded wankers.

Comment by andy@cynic

I should point out I appreciate many people can’t afford to teach a company exploiting them, a lesson. It’s sadly the ammunition many companies use to further exploit them.

My point was more for companies than individuals/sole traders – though smaller companies face this issue all the time too.

What I find fascinating is that clients think they can do this to whoever is ‘pitching’ for their business but act with pure disgust when someone asks them to lower their price on a product. Which is why I had so much fun doing that with the procurement department I recently dealt with – and that is linked in this post.

Anyway, my point is I know it is a privilege to say no to a client because they want to undermine your value. To Andy’s point, the impact of it is that lowering their salaries, they are lowering the amount of people who can end up purchasing their product – which is also what was said by a car worker in the Michael Moore coco, Roger and Me.

No one can say we weren’t warned.

Comment by Rob

Don’t think I didn’t notice how you got your former colleagues to focus on the past rather than the present.

Comment by John

Thank you for pointing that out. Always vigilant.

Comment by Rob

Metallica’s management demonstrating the signalling power of “you get what you pay for”. Banks and consultancies have been exploiting that forever.

Comment by John

bet they fucking regret that.

Comment by andy@cynic


Comment by John

An excellent post. You are very fortunate to be dealing with a music management team who value talent rather than see them ripe for exploitation. No wonder they have such a long history working with the industries finest.

Comment by Lee Hill

You weren’t too bad Rob. At least it was always in the pursuit of interesting. It could have been so much worse.

Comment by Pete


Comment by DH

How did you deal with that in China? In my experience, they ask you what you charge, you tell them, they tell you that the project budget was already fixed and you’re 5 x above what they allocated, you either accept what they allocated or you stick to your worth and watch them get some 19 year old kid do the job for free food and exposure.

Comment by Hutch E Wilco

Yes … China is an interesting market.

Without doubt it is difficult however when I lived there I was [1] at Wieden+Kennedy and so a lot of our work was globally aligned which meant while our creative work was independently developed, the cost arrangement was already negotiated. And [2] when it was a pure China/Asia client, we often had the advantage of being NIKE’s agency which meant clients wanted to work with us – which helped with negotiations as it meant they could tell their boss.

So the experience there wasn’t typical.

That said, I work with a billionaire and he was amazing to me as well. Though there’s 2 reasons for that.

The relatively incidental one is that having lived there for so long, I know ‘the cultural approach’ to negotiation. That means I left space for him to have his input in the conversation rather than simply have a ‘take it or leave it’ stance.

However the main reason for it being so positive is [1] he’s the ultimate boss [2] it’s literally his money [3] he knows my experience is relatively unique for him and he values that and [4] in the big scheme of things – his shoes probably cost more than he pays me.

The thing that helped me most is not to look at what I do in terms of market but in terms of value to them. By elevating myself out of those criteria – and obviously having the proof to back it up – it has helped me enormously. Doesn’t mean I’ve not made some disastrous mistakes – hopefully I have explained that in the post – but it has helped me feel much more comfortable with my fees.

That … and I am generally working for founders not managers, pioneers not traditionalists and people comfortable with who they are not people who are trying to be someone they’re not.

It’s why I was good with NIKE but a disaster with Unilever. Hahaha.

Comment by Rob

Blind drunk 5 year old. Brilliant.

Comment by Wayne Green

Reminds me of when I worked in Manchester, and a major client was re-pitching.

The agency looked at the work being done, and realised the client in question was already getting way more work than they paid for – AND they wanted to both increase work and lower costs in the pitch.

So the agency refused to pitch.

The client ended up hiring a major LONDON agency. Which means at some point they must have either massively altered the budget, or decreased the workload.

As often was the case, talent in Manchester was way undervalued compared to talent in London. Like when I applied for a job at a big London agency who told me they would rather I had experience at a shit London agency than the best one in Manchester (working on big national brands)!

Comment by Rob (The other one)

I used to think the hardest bit about doing work for clients was negotiating a fair price- then I realised it didn’t make much difference anyway because by the time they actually paid up,I’d starved to death.

Comment by chris mitchell

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