If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Picture of Matthew Stibbe
on 23 January 2008
How to freelance Strategy Clients

Marketing agency writers are not monkeys. If you were an experienced professional - say a lawyer or an accountant - and you received an email like the one below, you would probably find it somewhat insulting.

You get what you pay for 

  • "Just draft a free contract and if we like it we might get you to sue someone." 
  • "Just do us a free audit and if it's okay, we might ask for some tax advice."

What is it about the word "writer" that makes people think we'll jump through hoops like performing seals to get our hands on a £50 gadget in order to get a gig that pays a fraction of our standard rate?

Company X emailed me out of the blue yesterday.  I sent them a carefully-worded pitch, sample prices and links to more information. This is the reply I just received:

'We would like to thank you for your CV and portfolio.

After reviewing your CV/portfolio with our CEO we would like to propose the following, as we wish to work alongside an individual who we feel will be able to respond quickly and efficiently to our requests.

A sample of our product will be available for you to review and analyse.  We would then like you to provide us with a tantalising press release.  After each review these products would be yours to keep, the cost of each unit varies from £50.00 too £300.00.

In the first instance we would like to send you a [product name removed] for such a review. After careful consideration of this review we will then make the decision as to whether we would wish to approach you with further work, which would also include proof reading of Deco Boxes, Specification Sheets and all other necessary marketing material.

We would need to work on a purchase order and invoice basis, each press release costing approximately £100.

We look forward to hearing your comments in regards to the above proposal.'

In my experience, it takes a while to get to know a company and its products. This is a necessary first step to writing well for them. It also takes a day or two to write a good press release, get it approved and proofread. 

So, paying £100 per press release means, essentially, asking me to work for minimum wage. If I wanted to do that, I'd work for McDonald's. At least I'd get a uniform and a free lunch.

I wrote a polite email saying that if they pay peanuts, they should expect monkeys. In my heart, I wanted to suggest that they do something painful and anatomically challenging to themselves. Writers are not monkeys.

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See also: marketing agency

Related service: Company culture