We should be paid for our thinking, not our time
by Pepe Marais (@pepemarais) I’d like to tell you a tale of two strategists.
In this short story, Strategist A is a strategist at one of the best advertising agencies in our country, having received a MBA degree cum laude long before everyone else. Two decades later, A’s top talents, according to Gallup’s StrengthsFinder are “Strategic”, “Ideation” and “Learner” and A’s critical thinking ability is off the charts.
Strategist A will ask “Why?” more than your average child, to the frustration of those who surround A. A is the bloodhound of the strategic pack, can sniff out a profound insight ten miles away, find the correct ‘room for growth’ and conceive of a brilliant marketing strategy while another big dog might still be scratching the fleas behind her ear. A’s thinking may intimidate people; at times, even drive them up the walls. But clients keep coming back for more. Because A pushes them. A adds true value to their brands and businesses.
A, in my book, is great. Exceptionally so.
On the other side of the spectrum is Strategist B. B is your average, everyday strategist. Same-age dog up to a different set of old tricks. B, too, has over two decades of experience. B is overly polite, says what clients want to hear and tries to keep everyone happy.
B regurgitates old thinking and repackages it into what B believes clients will think is something new. B is overly obsessed with research and data and likes to put 187 wordy slides together to argue the point in detail, yet hardly ever disagrees when that point is finally shot down. B doesn’t like to use too many visuals — hey, presentations with pictures are for those creative folk! And, yes, most clients are happy working with B, because B baffles them with bullsh!t. B loves the ticking of boxes as much as B loves the sound of B’s own voice.
B, in my book, is ordinary. Unexceptional. B gets the job done but, if you really listen closely at the end of B’s presentations, you may just hear a soft sigh of relief in utter boredom.
But here’s the interesting part: If you had to pitch B against A, given the identical brief and business challenge, you will find that B will deliver on the task at hand in 48 hours, while A will give you something astounding in a third of the time. And since both A and B earn the same salaries, based on their experience, their hourly rate — when calculated by our archaic costing formula of salary times overhead ratio — results in the same round figure: two and three round zeros of ZAR to the cent.
But here’s where the whole calculation fails to add up. While we can charge R96 000 for B’s half-baked, over-processed and boringly good thinking, we can only charge R32 000 for a slice of greatness from the genius of A’s mind.
Because we are paid for our time and not for our thinking.
Root of the problem
And there, in short, you have the root of the problem that we face as an advertising business model today. Because I can make exactly the same case for a great copywriter vs an average copywriter, an exceptional art director vs a mediocre one, a critical-thinking business unit director vs a paper pusher, or any other billable person within our business.
We are incentivised to create by means of laborious process. Because the more arduous our process, the more exhausting the pipeline from brief to market, the more we can charge. Irrespective of the calibre of thinking that is finally consumed by our market. We are paid to be slow, and not to be sharp.
American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor and futurist, Buckminster Fuller, said: “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, you build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”
Change, in this industry, will start when we become candid about critical issues. When we become conscious about our incompetence. When we start to create a product based on critical thinking that will produce maximum impact for our clients. Because only by fixing the calibre of our creative thinking can we begin to have the conversation around being paid for it.
Rather than for our time.
Updated on 20 March 2019.
Pepe Marais (@pepemarais), founding partner and group chief creative officer of Joe Public United, launched his first book, “Growing Greatness — A Journey Towards Personal and Business Mastery” in 2018.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.
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