Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday afternoon reading: getting paid, again

I’ve posted earlier about the challenge of getting paid what we think our work is worth: along with the much lamented conventions that allow us to charge for color copies but insist we give our ideas away, there is also a long dependence on hourly fees in almost every service industry which essentially incentives many of us (admen, consultants and lawyers alike) to be inefficient, throwing as many people and hours at the client as possible.

This last problem is particularly challenging for people in the so-called creative industries. We all know that great ideas do, on occasion, come easily or quickly, but according to the laws of accounting, this idea would be worth less than something we labored on for tedious weeks, whatever it's worth or potential impact in the marketpale

I’m not sure I have a convincing solution to this challenge (I hope Adrian and Rob over at zeusjones have it figured out), but I came across another interesting option in an academic paper of a former student. While the analogue doesn’t quite solve the problem of how to value easy work, it’s somewhat comforting to learn it’s been around for a good long time.

The situation was a famous debate between the painter James Whistler and the critic John Ruskin. In a particularly nasty review of an 1877 exhibition containing Whistler’s work, Ruskin takes particular exception to Whistler’s “Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket”
"I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face."
Whistler, in turn, decided to sue Ruskin for libel. The Judge at the London trial asked Whistler how he could dare ask for such a large sum for a work that took only two days to paint. Whistler answered that that the fee was not for the two days but for “the knowledge of a lifetime.”

If only we could all get paid for this acquired knowledge. And in some ways we do. It’s why more experienced or senior staffers bill out at a hire rate than more junior ones. But it still leaves us in the trap of billing for time.


Beecham said...

Can't resist: the Whistler/Ruskin example is great. Captures something of the logic of "artificial simplicity," doesn't it?

(Wish I could have that flung pot of paint on my wall. 200 guineas? a steal! could almost afford that. But I've given up on the hope of getting paid what my work is worth.)

Paul Soldera said...

Not too sure if I agree with the analogy. A painting's value is aesthetic. It is worth something because someone is willing to pay something for the pleasure of simply having it on a wall. A creative advertising idea's value is derived from the effect it has - selling more, making people more aware, making them believe in something. Because the effect is secondary, it's harder to measure (and therefore harder to value).

The 'lifetime's' work argument is therefore tough to sell in advertising. A lifetime of generating/executing creative ideas may make you good at it, but it's contemporary knowledge, current insight, cultural savvy and the ballness of youth that make the secondary effects of the idea work.

sk said...

Appreciate the challenge, Paul.
I'd welcome more. But your definitions of value in these cases strike me as idealistic.

The pleasure someone takes in a painting might be aesthetic (though that itself isn't simple) but it's value is defined by the market, by which i mean supply and demand. A painting that wasn't worth 200 guineas in the 19th century (the scandal at the time made it almost impossible to sell) is now worth millions. Did it's aesthetic value change?

Many of us wish the value of advertising was defined by its marketplace impact (and many agencies are working toward more performance-based compensation agreements) but the majority of agencies aren't paid by how well they do in the market, but rather the market's investment in their efforts. It's all based on hope, and what the market will bear. But perhaps that's what you mean by the secondary effect. Not sure i followed that point.

it's gotten even more complicated lately of course which cheaper digital productions creating more impressive marketplace impact.

Agree that the lifetime's work argument is unlikely. Not sure experience helps much in marketing, though long-time survivors tend to get paid more.

Paul Soldera said...

I guess it comes down to what you mean by 'marketplace' - we might be talking about something slightly different.

I agree, a painting's aesthetic value is hard to pin down and yes, it is definitely valued by a market - you have buyers and sellers.

Advertising has no equivalent market though - not really. You don't buy advertising based on it's aesthetic value. It's not valued for what it is in of itself, but rather the effect you think it will have on others - the secondary effect. I think that makes it different from art and tough to pull an analogy together for.

Of course, it is more complicated. As you point out, cheap online productions can be bolstered by huge network effects? How much of that is a function of the media and a function of the idea? Hard to tell, and harder to value.

I am trying to think up a good analogous market for advertising but nothing comes to mind. As a marketer, you want to buy 'persuasion' (in all its forms). There is nothing really similar out there.