You Want to Pay Me $250 for a Marketing Strategy? That’s Cute

I have standards, people

Credit: Adobe Stock // Studio Grand Web

Let’s not talk about the time I was offered $250 for a marketing strategy — weeks worth of work — and say we did.

We talk about this in private Facebook groups and behind closed doors in fear of losing work. We trade emails about editors who offer, with a straight face, $25 for 500-word articles, complete with secondary sources and rounds of revision. We have rage blackouts over the fact the tenured who have portfolios and case studies are being passed over by people who are “energetic self-starters” with zero experience. Someone once told me that they could get what I offer at a third of the place, to which I responded: Good luck with that. No doubt they’ll call me when they need me to clean up someone else’s mess. I have friends who made more money ten years ago than they do now, yet we’re all paying 2019 rents. Years ago, Victoria Philpott shared a perfect scenario of this bullshit parade in her incisive essay:

A new startup wants you to review their app on your site, host a competition to give five away to your readers and write about them on the App Store. In return, you’ll get to be one of the first to try the new app. You go back and tell them that’s advertising and will cost but they ‘don’t have the budget for that’. So, they want a good few hours work, and access to your audience, in return for an app you didn’t ask for or want?

In a hustle economy, everyone’s juggling side gigs and projects like a pro acrobat. But the refrain is constant: we’re working harder for less.

I worked throughout college — balancing a 20+ hour work week with a full course load, volunteer activities, and some semblance of a social life. My internships were paid because I couldn’t afford not to make money, and while I understood that what was I being paid was reflective of my experience, I never even considered competing with full-time employees who had years of experience.

Now, this isn’t a get-off-my-lawn rant, a Gen X vs. Gen Y kerfuffle rivaling Biggie and Tupac. We need each other, and there’s power in mentorships that are symbiotic. There’s power in being a perennial student when you can set aside your ego and realize everyone — regardless of age — has something of value to contribute. What I’ve learned most from my millennial friends is the power of reinvention. Of taking something old and seeing in it the new.

So if you’re ready to get riled up at the kids today, there are plenty of articles on Medium that cover that territory. Or you can scroll through Bret Easton Ellis’ bitter Twitter feed. But this is not one of them.

Over the past few years, I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend, where to preserve their fragile P&L, companies are throwing vanity titles at kids in hopes that they’ll magically transform overnight into someone with twenty years of experience. The result? An entire non-existent middle layer of management, senior executives too deep in the weeds and overwhelmed newbies non-equipped to manage the work and situations in which they have little experience.

Some people surprise you — they’re natural leaders, exuding confidence and wisdom beyond their years. Yet, there’s something to be said for tenure, for having the years, for enduring experience and learning from it and then having the perspective that only time and distance brings to bear on new situations, and being fairly compensated for the value you bring. I will always believe that you get what you pay for. Replacing tenured talent with cheap labor to preserve bottom-line impact isn’t a viable long-term strategy. Placing band-aids on dams might work in the short-term, but inevitably the dam will burst.

There’s real value in having the younger perspective. There’s value in having someone, who knows the nuances of social media and how people want to connect and communicate, give input on content and strategy. However, their value is complementary, not interchangeable. Complement, don’t hit “select” and “replace all.” Just because someone will work for free (and I’m not even touching the inherent privilege of people who can afford this career strategy) doesn’t mean you need to capitalize on it for the sake of saving dollars.

But let’s come back to the time when someone offered me $250 for a marketing strategy, baiting me with the I can get a million kids on Upwork to do this line. Building a strategy requires (and I’m summarizing big time here):

  1. Discovery & Research: A complete brand and business immersion and analysis, which includes market and consumer research, an internal company audit of staff, processes, technology, best practices, and prior marketing and brand plans, a resulting PESTLE or SWOT analysis, and so on. And this is just to understand the current state of play.
  2. Key Learnings: Identify internal and external challenges and opportunities, along with some kick fixes or wins because everyone has the patience of a toddler these days. Since I’m removed from the day-to-day, I have the fortune of distance and perspective and can usually identify issues and opportunities that staff too close to the business might miss
  3. Objectives & Goals Discussion: This process is vital because it sets the strategic direction. We have to not only understand what we need to do to move the business forward, but we also have to know our customers — their behavior, motivations, pain-points, habits, and influences. We evaluate prior performance, establish benchmarks, and define quantitative and qualitative goals and objectives. We discuss how we define success and the associated KPIs (key performance indicators), which is a fancy way of saying that we have a set of tools to gauge whether what we’re doing works.
  4. Strategy Outline and Formulation: This is the “what” stage, i.e., what we’ll do to service the goals and objectives. This isn’t a tactic, a “we’ll launch an Instagram channel” or “we’ll hire a YouTube celeb to get some buzz on our products” — this is the overarching concept and platform that spans across all paid, owned, earned, and partner media.
  5. Tactical Roadmap: While the strategy articulates what we’ll do, the tactics answer for how we’ll put our plan into action. This stage will also involve an assessment of budget and resources and what can realistically be achieved.

So you think all that work — weeks of labor, years of experience, and a solid track record — is worth $250? I’ve worked for over twenty years to be paid $250 for a marketing strategy? Surely you jest. You think the hours it takes for writers to find sources, compose interview questions, transcribe interviews, draft articles, and make revisions are worth $25? $100? $250?

As Shannon Barber so sagely wrote: “No one can eat exposure.” I tell prospects that I’m not running a non-profit. Would I ask my dentist to reduce her rate for my cracked tooth because I decided I needed to stress-eat hazelnut granola at two-thirty in the morning because someone down the street charges less? Would I nickel and dime a plumber? Would I ask someone to paint my apartment for free in exchange for an Instagram post? Why is it that people find it easy to diminish the value of writers and marketers (non-tactile skills)? Why is it so easy to sacrifice quality for short-term profit?

I’ve lost count how many times prospective clients want a Mercedes on a Pinto budget. They’re excited about how I can shape and change their business, but only if they can pay bottom dollar for it. They scoff at the $15,000 price tag (try paying that fee to an agency and see how loud they laugh you out the door) I charge for building their brand without realizing that what I’m creating is a blueprint, the infrastructure for their business through which all decisions are made.

You ask me what’s the ROI for your brand platform and strategy. Let’s take a walk through the land of reality for a moment.

We live in a frenetic, attention-deficit era where our phones are our appendages and 77% of people wouldn’t care if all the brands in the world disappeared. So you want to know the ROI of your brand platform and strategy — the intangible that defines and develops the tangible? It’s saving you from the land of irrelevance. It’s capturing your customers’ attention and holding it. It’s the stories you tell and how you tell them. It’s the products you create because you know what your customers want.

It’s the success of your business. And you want to pay me a Pinto project rate? LOL.

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