‘Gimme, gimme?’ I don’t work for free!


A few years ago, walking into a club I had been invited to by a popular promoter, I found him snapping this huge rubber band on his hand. I asked him, “Why the giant rubber band?” He pointed to the disappointed guy walking away with his girlfriend and said he had asked to get in for free. He told him no. Then he explained the band “snapped” him back to his mantra “I got bills too, b---h!”

That’s what he actually said. Somehow, people didn’t see him as an actual business owner since his business was the club business. But he told me, “I got kids. I got a mortgage. I got a car payment. Publix won’t take my popularity as payment for my groceries.”

And then my a-ha moment! People will happily ask you to work for free, especially in Miami.

Pretty much every day, I get a call that goes down in this general order:

▪  The callers start by sucking up to me, blowing smoke, telling me how fabulous I am — “And by the way, how is your lovely daughter?”

▪ The next move is to compliment all the work my company has done, the wondrously wonderful events, the awesomeness of our awesomeness, the fabulosity and diamonds in the sky of each PR campaign.

▪ Then they slide into how much they wish they could afford the services of a firm as amazing as ours. But since they can’t, and since I’m such a great person … could I give them some free advice?

▪ And, they want to know, while I’m at it, if could I do all the actual work for free, too?

Love ya! Mean it!

Perhaps it’s the omnipresence of Miami’s “Don’t you know who I am? I’m a VIP!” culture. It’s pervasive and entitled. And anyone in professional services knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Perhaps it’s because we consultants make our living through intellectual property.

It’s intangible because it’s based on experience, relationships, prized contacts, expertise, instinct and trial and error. But just because it’s not tangible doesn’t mean we can just give it away. Would you go to Macy’s and ask for a free wardrobe, just because?

I’ve been suckered in by the above-mentioned process more than a gazillion times. So, I’ve perfected my standard response: “Ummm … you do know we’re a for-profit business, right?” That, I’ve found, puts the whole thing into perspective.

Perhaps it’s because we’re in PR and marketing. It seems flashy and fun, sparkly and exciting, all of which it is, but not until we’ve been grinding for months, had too many late nights, forgotten to eat, compiled obnoxious spreadsheets, begged reporters to accept our pitch and re-worked the creative 5,329 times. We’re good at what we do, so perhaps to the public it looks easy and therefore easy to give away. My colleagues and I kvetch about it all the time, we’re so sick of trying to make a living while trying to politely distinguish between those who really want or need to do business with us and have a realistic budget to go along with that need and those trying to use our good natures to get them out of writing a check.

Just to make sure I wasn’t alone, I asked a dear friend, entrepreneur and strategic partner Anthony Jackson of The Marome Agency. He succinctly summed it up: “Either you can pay me what I’m worth or I can get some rest!”

I’m not saying I haven’t tried to get stuff or work for free. I have — after all, I do live in Miami. But I try to bring value in other ways, perhaps trading services or making a connection to a potential client.

So, for the record, I, Suzan McDowell, because I care about these causes, happily give my pro bono time and talents to The Overtown Youth Center, The Miami Children’s Initiative, One Billion Rising, Joshua’s Heart, The Sandy B. Muller Breast Cancer Foundation and Camp Waziyatah. That’s it and that’s more than enough.

For everybody else looking for free labor and shared resources, please look elsewhere.

Suzan McDowell is president and CEO of Circle of One Marketing in Miami and blogs for huffingtonpost.com.