I am not your doormat!
Brands vs Content Creators
Written by Lukas North | Edited by Kristen Swanson
I am a photographer and a content creator. I have been steadily creating content for roughly two years now. I have invested heavily in myself and I do not appreciate you looking at me and my work and refusing to pay for the quality I bring to you. Your brand depends on me and those like me. Without images - without content - your brand is nothing. We are the backbone of your brand because, without us, you simply fail to exist. It is not my problem that you fail to budget accordingly for the content that your brand so desperately needs.
Every content creator that values themselves and their work”
"The fact is this; we live in a visuals
I am writing this in response to a client’s assertion that what I do “can be done by anyone with a phone today” and how “it’s not [his] fault [I] bought such an expensive camera.”
Obviously, I won’t name any names, but it did hit on a topic that boils my blood every time it happens to me. This dismissive assertion that anyone can do what I do (or anyone like me does) is an insult to me and my craft. So here’s my take on the brands vs. content creators argument: YOU NEED US! WITHOUT US YOU HAVE NOTHING TO SHOW TO ANYONE. WITHOUT US YOU DON’T HAVE A BRAND - YOU HAVE AN IDEA! A VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF THAT IDEA AND LIFESTYLE IS PARAMOUNT TO YOUR SUCCESS!
There, I said it.
I really do not care what anyone thinks of what I have to say here. The fact is this: we live in a visually-driven realm. We depend on those eye-catching images that will pull a customer toward a specific brand. If all you have are words (still content creation), then you will fail as a business.
Brands need imagery to sell their products to the masses and they depend on content creators (photographers, illustrators, writers, etc.) to provide them with those image needs. So for brands to not adequately allocate funding for arguably the largest portion of their brand is an insult.
For too long people have been looking down on the arts as a do nothing profession or a profession that isn’t worth the paper the degree is printed on. For too long freelance workers are not being paid what they’re worth.
"I refuse to work for less than my valuation
of myself and my skillset"
If you can afford to buy yourself a new BMW, then you can afford to pay me my rate as a freelance artist. I will not give you a discount, I will not “work” with you to get what you want so you can profit from my hard work. If I were to do the same, would you expect me to ask you for the same discounts you’re asking me for? No, you’d say that’s not how business is done.
If you’ve read this far, please stay with me. I’m going to attempt to sound less rant-y.
Now that I’ve aired that out, let me get down to a more refined argument.
The value of Photography
As a medium, photography isn’t properly valued when you look at what it does for a business. As a whole, the entire arts community isn’t valued for what they bring to the table. For a long time, the arts have been seen as a poor investment for anyone on their way to university. Parents will usually say “choose something that’s going to make you money” (they sometimes then ask for a family discount on work - which is odd given this statement).
As an artist, I’ve had to argue my case as to why I chose to get into the arts. The usual question is, “Do you make a good living from doing photography?” and to that, I generally don’t respond. However, the fact that this is one of the first questions I get asked shows just how undervalued it is. No one really expects you to make a decent living from photography (or the arts in general).
Seeing is believing
As I said in my rant, brands depend on having visually stimulating content to bring in customers. Imagine walking to The North Face and not seeing their clothing on someone in a tundra. Would you know that their clothing was made for that climate? Imagine seeing a Surface Book with the keyboard off without seeing an advert for what it can do; would you think it’s nothing more than a broken piece of hardware?
Those may not be the best examples, but the point I’m trying to make is this: without a visual representation of a product, how do you know what the product is? The savvy will say, “Well someone will talk about it and that’s how you know.” YOU ARE CORRECT! YOU GET A CANDY!
"Your brand depends on
me and those like me."
Would you keep driving around to a variety of places to hear someone talk about something? Wouldn’t it be easier for you to look up the information online and SEE what it is? A description of something is good, but seeing it is better. And when you have both? Amazeballs!
To see these things, however, you need people like me to create those images for you. You need people like me to create a wide range of content for you so you can sell your product to people all over the world. So why are we so undervalued?
Instagram has made it so that instead of money, brands can give away free stuff that cost them pennies to make. These things are so coveted that people who want them agree to get these items in lieu of payment. Thus, fucking every content creator right up main street!
Social networks such as Instagram have become essential to brands - which, by the way, is a content-driven platform. The thing is, though, because Instagram and others were not valued in the beginning, a precedent was set and is still in effect today. That precedent is: the more followers you get, the more free stuff you get from brands. It became a social media high school. Brands are willing to reward the popular kids and the popular kids, not knowing the value of anything, were happy to take free product rather than getting paid to promote the brands. Brands have thus grown ten fold while spending a few dollars to manufacture a product.
One of the phrases I abhor the most is: “I can’t pay you, but you’ll get great exposure.” The last time I checked I can’t pay taxes with “exposure.” If you can work that out with the IRS, then sure I’ll work for exposure. Until then, fuck you - pay me!
The cheek of it! Brands who spend thousands on things that aren’t as valuable as their content want to pay you with exposure. How am I supposed to feed myself with exposure? How am I supposed to pay rent, or pay for gas with exposure?
"fuck you pay me!"
The other annoying thing I often hear is, “Can you recommend someone else?” My response - and I swear I’ve said this - is, “I’m sorry, but I respect my colleagues too much to send you to them.” When brands ask me this question it’s one of the most insulting things in this profession. You don’t want to pay me adequately, so you want me to recommend someone else who you can rip off?
Think about that for a second. If I asked you to recommend someone to me, I expect you to recommend someone who is going to give me quality work. Not someone who’s going to give me subpar work just because they cost less. They probably cost less for a reason. It’s also insulting because you think that I think like you in my valuation of others in my craft.
THE POWER OF NO!
I LOVE THAT WORD!
Can you do this for me? NO!
It’ll give you great exposure. NO!
Can I get a discount? NO!
In recent months I’ve learned the true value of this word. I’ve come to know my talent and I know how long it takes me to produce content because I want to ensure the client gets far beyond what they pay for. The thing that some brands don’t understand is that working with a content creator is a partnership. The end result means just as much to them as it does to you. It is a clear representation of themselves and their work and capabilities; why would they want to half-ass it? They’d prefer to whole-ass the work and make you look good, thus making them look good as well.
So when I tell a brand no, it is an empowering thing. I refuse to work for less than my valuation of myself and my skill set.