Monday, August 15, 2011

Footloose and free – Freelancers don’t come for free.

That’s the general perception about ‘freelancers’ as they are popularly called by all and sundry; not to miss the accusing tone of voice (TOV) when a client mouths this word. It’s as if the client is talking about a necessary evil he has to deal with, because the client wants a professional but not an agency you see. What he doesn’t tell is that he simply cannot afford the latter’s high costs nor the high handedness and feels it’s best to go with a freelancer who can kowtow to all his demands and still charge him a fraction of the agency’s bill. 

The client approaches this species in all earnest with a truckload of expectations. The client wants the freelancer to be very professional, very experienced (in the client’s industry, preferably), deliver the work ‘day before yesterday’ or even before, work on off days, sick days, weekends, public holidays, ungodly hours, be accessible on phone or better still, a Blackberry 24 x7, respond to the client in half a second, not argue, object, debate or protest, AND NOT CHARGE ANYTHING FOR ALL THIS THAN PEANUTS! 

The freelancer too begins his job in earnest, communicates with the client regularly, works on the job religiously and does all he can to deliver the goods to the best of his ability and to the client’s satisfaction. But just when he thinks that the client is happy and decides to bill him, the client starts exhibiting symptoms of PBS, a hellish state akin to the PMS, which in  freelancer terminology reads ‘Pre – Billing Syndrome’. After PBS hits the client, he withdraws himself, cuts off contacts with the freelancer, does not take his calls, does not answer his mails/text messages and like the proverbial bear goes into long months of hibernation. The poor freelancer has no choice but to sulk and sink into forced hibernation, termed in medical lexicons as depression. 

Months later, after endless follow-ups, the client decides to bless the freelancer and parts with some money as part payment of his efforts. In the hope that the balance will follow soon, the freelancer accepts the part payment and waits; sometimes for months or years or forever. The money, mostly, never comes. The partly paid invoice/bill promptly follows its predecessors to the file marked ‘Bad Debts’. The cycle continues and the freelancer remains where he was, an overworked, underpaid, ignored species that wonders what happened and where things went wrong. The client then shifts to another freelancer, or later as (if) he grows, to an agency and then another. 

In business, they say, all is fair. What is unfair here is the word ‘freelancer’. What is not ok is the perception or the image that the word carries which says “Hey, I am a freelancer because I don’t have a regular job, I am free of attitude and I come for free and you are free to behave as you please with me”. 

And yet, we have freelancers who are richer than agencies, who have clients as big as the Fortune 500, who live life on their terms. They are free spirits, yet committed professionals. And not because no one is giving them a job, but because they choose to be independent. 

Freelancers out there, would you still want to use this term? Clients out there, do you still want to associate yourself with the word freelancers? Wouldn’t you both benefit if you use a word with more respect? How about Consultant? Or Partner? Or Associate?
You are of course free to suggest a better term, but for now, let’s do away with the word freelancer and its meaningless associations.
Freedom deserves respect. And so do the freelancers.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why art directors don’t read copy and copywriters can’t stop writing.

As a young trainee copywriter, I was yet to come face to face with the harsh reality called an ‘art director’ or ‘artist’. Given to believe during my learning days that ‘a copywriter and an art director’ are in it together, that ‘no idea can be good enough without the equal contribution of both’ and such romantic mush, I was looking forward to some great chemistry with the artists on my team.

But as I would soon discover, the reality was earth-shattering like in most things. After fussing and fawning over myriad things like the thesaurus, origin of words, right usage and finally writing a copy that was ‘crisp’ yet ‘connected’ and ‘good’, I felt the art director could have at least read it (once!) But alas! No such luck. I was on the threshold of finding out his eternal love for the CTRL A, CTRL C and CTRL V keys (copy-paste for the uninitiated). The end result was that the dear man had put down everything I had written down, even the instructions like ‘highlight this’, ‘use the standard bullet points here’, ‘this is missing’ etc. to the last letter. Aaarghh! I pulled my hair for the nth time in a single year but the art man was as impassive as ever. He nodded his head when I pointed out, deleted the things I pointed out and went about his ‘designing’ business again. The next ad came out exactly like the first one, with all the instructions intact. That’s when the bitter truth hit me:

“Art guys don’t read copy”. But why???

Good question, no good answer.

And then another good question:

“Man, I mean woman, why do you write such long copy ya!!!! I mean who will read this, who has the time to read allllllll this!!”

“Can you cut this down to half? It’s such a huge mass”, beseeched the art man of me in a very silken voice that almost betrayed his frustration at long copy. And here I was convinced that not everyone can write GOOD LONG COPY. Sigh!

So I cut the copy NOT IN HALF of course, but a wee bit and got back to my business - of writing.

We must have repeated the above incident ‘n’ number of times in the decade and a half we have worked since. The art directors I worked with changed with the agencies, but their property of ‘copy paste’ seemed to b an integral part of their DNA. Surprisingly, when I met that old art man again he had the same to say for copywriters.

“You copywriters just can’t stop writing!!”

Although the art of advertising has undergone radical change since then, there’s one thing that has stuck - art guys who never read copy and copywriters who never stop writing long copy. The endless brawls between copy and art continue unabated. But we still work together; sometimes (these are rare cases) display great chemistry and many a times come up with a brilliant, award winning piece.

And yet, the eternal fight for space even in a double spread continues and so does the ego-tussle between art and copy. The boss throws his hands up in exasperation and throws a deadline at both. “Remember”, he bellows, “a good ad can have just one thing –a powerful visual or a powerful headline, never both”.

Win-win my foot!