I'm going to be honest, up front. This is a different (and longer) post than I typically write. In fact, if I'm being really honest, I don't really write many posts anymore. I started this blog when I relaunched my website several years ago, but have mostly abandoned it since then. Such is life when you're a dad, you work full time during the week, run a kids party booking agency, and are a popular, local kids party magician on the weekends. Some things just have to take a back seat.
And, I guess I should also say that I wasn't sure I should share this here, on a blog that has been, until now, entirely for the purposes of marketing myself as a magician and a balloon artist. This is going to be a much more personal post. And possibly a controversial one. The old axiom that "all publicity is good publicity" isn't always true.
But, as I've thought more about this, I've made the decision that I believe everything I'm going to say, and I'm willing to stand by it, no matter what.
As an entertainer and a creative professional, I get asked to work for free. A lot. Like, a real lot. So often, in fact, that I have a very standard reply ready to go when a charity asks me. Because, to be clear, about 95% of the time it is a charity or non-profit event asking. Sometimes it's an animal rescue. Sometimes it's for research for a disease. And sometimes it's just a mom trying to raise awareness for a rare genetic disorder her child suffers from. In almost every instance, I decline.
Please don't think I'm heartless, though. I actually do quite a bit of volunteer work, even though I don't really talk about it much. I've been humbled by the work I've done for organizations like The Make-a-Wish Foundation, The Ronald McDonald House in New Haven, and other non-profits that do so much for children and members of my community. Later this year I'll be volunteering for Supper With Santa, a fundraiser for a mom in my community who recently lost her six year old daughter.
But, as heart breaking as it is for me - a father of two beautiful girls - to say 'no' to a mom trying raise awareness for a genetic disorder her child is living with, the simple fact is that I can't say yes to all of them, especially when they fall on a weekend. I'm not a big business. I'm just one guy, and the vast majority of the work I get comes on the weekend.
Still, I don't mind them asking. I get it. It's a numbers game, and maybe theirs is the one that I'll choose to say 'yes' to this time.
This is different, however, from the other 5% of the time when I get asked to work for free. In those instances, I'm being asked by for-profit companies. Always companies much larger than mine. Almost always large, national brands. Sometimes these requests come with a thin veil of "charitable" work. "Won't you please volunteer for our 'give back' night?" This is another way of saying, "won't you subsidize our charitable giving?"
However - in some instances, these large companies dispense with even the pretense of helping others and simply ask for me to work for free because. Because what? Who knows, although usually there's an offer of "exposure."
This is no surprise to creative professionals. We deal with this all the time. Whether it's a graphic designer, a writer, or even a balloon artist, some people value our work only until they are asked to pay for it. Actor/Writer Wil Wheaton set off a flurry of conversation on this topic last year when he tweeted and subsequently blogged about it. A British grocery chain found itself in hot water when they tried to find an artist to work for free. And some clever person hilariously answered a Craig's List ad looking for a free band.
But still, it annoys me. And today I experienced perhaps the most annoying and offensive conversation on this topic that I've had. I'm going to share it below with only minor edits to protect the identity of the e-mailer (I'm not trying to name and shame here, I just want to bring a little bit of awareness to the issue).
The one bit of context I want to provide is that this e-mail comes from a Fortune 500 company. Specifically, a company that sells high end items in its field. Think BMW or Apple. It's not either of those companies, but that's the kind of company this is. And they are writing about an event to celebrate a collaboration with another Fortune 500 company that controls a major, world wide brand.
And I replied...
To which they responded... (I've left the grammatical errors in rather than editing their e-mail beyond redacting identifiers):
I believe she's referring to this Facebook post, but I digress. Below is my response, offered with no further comment.
UPDATED, 12/31/20: Because it's a fairly common question, no, she never responded to that last email. I do hope my message got through to her, but I don't know if it did or not.