We’ve all been there, someone wants to make use of your time and talent but they either can’t or won’t pay you. Instead they offer you that most intangible of rewards “exposure”, which is rarely accepted by checkout girls, bar tenders or landlords as legal currency – so, is it ever worth it?
The short answer to the question above is yes, sometimes. The longer answer depends on your criteria. Let me explain. When I started content marketing agency Click2View I was but a poor immigrant, recently arrived in the fair city of Singapore wearing the linen suit and espadrilles of all new expats. I, and my business partner, had virtually no money and even fewer contacts (for he was a poor immigrant too) so we needed to make some fast. To do that we needed customers, but where to find them? I did some research and found that Singapore has a vibrant digital marketing community with lots of conferences, exhibitions and networking events where my desired customers – senior marketing and communications execs working for multinational corporations – would be. Unfortunately most of them cost thousands of dollars to attend so how could I get in without spending money I didn’t have? I decided to approach the event organisers and offer them a barter.
A barter is a deal to swap goods or services without any actual cash changing hands. I was offering original video content creation and in return I wanted access which, eventually, I got. DMG Events was the owner and organiser of three annual events that drew together the top marketers from Singapore and Southeast Asia to address the latest developments in digital marketing. Those events were the iMedia Brand Summit, iMedia Agency Summit and Ad:Tech Singapore. The conference industry is highly competitive and unfortunately DMG Events shut up shop last year but in 2011 and 2012 these were must-attend meet-ups for the marketing industry.
DMG had an internal requirement to create more and better content around their events so Click2View developed a package of video interviews, topical soundbites and promos that we would create for them in return for official billing online, at the venue and in the brochure as Official Video Content Partner as well as delegate passes, travel and accommodation. This was certainly great “exposure” for us but once at the event we didn’t wait for people to just notice our logo. When our shooting day was done we networked like desperate teenagers at a disco, introducing ourselves to everyone and anyone who looked our way, handing out cards like candy and collecting as many in return. When we got back to Singapore (the iMedia events were always held in resorts in Malaysia or Indonesia) we followed up with every single person, thanked them for speaking to us and asked for a meeting to discuss our entire range of content marketing services. We did this for two years and met most of the key players in the local digital marketing scene. Some became customers, some became advocates but everyone became aware of Click2View. We’d finally arrived!
In this instance working for exposure clearly paid off, but why…?
- We had a clearly defined audience we were trying to reach and would only work with someone who could “expose” us to that exact audience
- We didn’t wait to be approached, we made the approach (although if someone approaches you the first thing you need to ask them is; who are your audience, what kind of access will I get to them and how can you guarantee it? I don’t speak at any events for free until I have seen the delegate list and can know for sure who is going to be in the audience)
- We offered DMG something of value and, most importantly, delivered it (with bells on!)
- We told DMG exactly what we required in return to make this worth our while (and they delivered in spades)
- We both agreed a list of deliverables, committed it to paper and signed it so there could be absolutely no misunderstanding about who owed what to whom
- We didn’t rely on DMG to do all the work, once they let us in the room we made the most of every opportunity to meet people and get noticed
Of course there are occasional exceptions to these rules; working for charities or non-profits for reduced rates or nothing but good vibes is a personal decision but you can usually find an angle that also works for you if you look hard enough. For example, some companies require their partners and vendors to undertake pro-bono work or have a CSR programme in place before they can use them.
One final tip, never be afraid to say no. If the other party cannot deliver the right kind of exposure for you or your business then it shouldn’t come as any surprise that you don’t want to work with them for anything less than cold, hard cash!
Since our great coming out in the 2011/12 debutante season we have scaled down the number of barters we do at Click2View but we’re always open to opportunities as long as they meet our criteria. We also budget the amount of time and resources we are prepared to barter each year so when it’s gone, it’s gone. If you think about it, this is not such an unusual way to do business; record labels have always given their product away to radio stations for free in return for “exposure” because the radio stations will play that record to a relevant audience who, if they like it, might go out and buy it not to mention the concert tickets and merchandise too. In that sense, working for the right kind of exposure makes you a bit like a rock star but don’t forget, in the end, you’ve got to charge if you want to live like one!