Why do you need to pay for creativity?

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This is going to be another ranting moment. But let me keep calm and be rational. I am a business owner of a creative agency which my livelihood depends on selling ideas and concepts. The service that a creative agency provides is pretty intellectual with all the designers using their brains to visualize their imaginations. The output is tangible with a combination of texts and graphics, patterns and movements, etc. The unit of the cost is the time that the designers spent in the thought process and also to structure, reason, and rationalize the logic of a concept. For the people who don’t see the value of paying for someone to create ideas, it is like they don’t understand why they need to remunerate an author who writes books or a chef who cooks.

For the people who don't see the value of paying for someone to create ideas, it is like they don't understand why they need to remunerate an author who writes books or a chef who cooks. Click To Tweet

Pathetically, it has been a norm in my industry that the practice of business pitching isn’t a fair play. A series of works in a creation process normally committed before we are accepted (or in the industry’s term – awarded) to work for a client. Sometime with a Request For Proposal (RFP), sometime without even a written note, (or a project brief to be proper). Everything starts with an invitation to convince the client that you are good. The invited agency accepts the invitation and begins a process called pitching, which actually starts the work and present the work before you can be “awarded.”

The following video explains the process and the logic in a blunt way.

How do you get your clients if you don’t participate in the RFP and be qualified? Or should my clients trust me so that they pay for my time and my skill? From what we have seen in the video, all the scenarios are absurd. But then why the marketing and advertising industry still continue the work-before-you-get-paid sort of business practice?

In my opinion, trust or visibility is always a problem in the intangible creation process of a creative business because creativity is a subjective concept. There is no universal methodology to express the creativity, not even the design-thinking. Design-thinking usually works after the spark of an idea. But sometime an idea just pops within a blinking second; sometime it takes rounds of validation and destructive-constructive process to generate a concept that might or might not be viable or acceptable.

To facilitate an ideation process, we usually require some parameters and limitation. Two typical parameters: time and money are always the deal breaker. Time and money are two important aspects that will directly impact the outcome of an idea. Less is more usually don’t apply in this situation. The more complex the requirement is, the more time and money will be spent to develop the concept. The following video illustrates how it usually goes in a low-budget client-agency conversation. Looks intelligent, but it doesn’t always work because it hurts people’s ego. Not all the customers can take it.

The fundamental issue here is not about high or low budget nor the work is dull or creative. We live in a world where most of the values are material and tangible. It is difficult to perceive an intangible benefit and this kind of benefit is usually emotional too.

And then the equation to calculate worthiness is also quite linear. If I say you need to give me X amount of time to come up with a good idea, then you might have a paradoxically evaluation when the X amount of time is too short, the quality might not be good, whereas if the X amount of time is too long, then the efficiency of my work reduce. The following video illustrates what I mean.

So, why do you need to pay for creativity? Because design and creative work require professional knowledge and years of training and practice. Creative mind can be gifted but not the creative work. It is a combination of art, science, tooling skill, and the troubleshooting of a series of logical elements. All these are the dedication of time and mind, and thus the cost will incur.

When someone incurs cost to do something for you, you should compensate for the effort. Fair enough.

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