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Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine, “among other professional embarrassments and failures.” He currently writes for local newspapers, blogs and other web content and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. He also continues to speak at art schools across the United States on business and professional practices and telling frightening stories that make students question their career choice (just kidding).
During my last job with a large corporation, people started to get laid off. Many fellow creatives came to me, as they had no idea what they would do if they were let go. I had come to that small city from New York and my experience was varied and impressive to those who started their careers with this company. Their parents had hoped for their own children to work there and eventually retire in the same homey place. They were anchored in this town that held no other industries. Like layoffs in a town that has a steel mill, there weren’t many options to those looking for work.
“You’re creative,” I would tell people before my turn came in the next to last round of layoffs (which is some comfort). “You can do so many things that are creative. If you get pushed out the door, make your own projects!" Then advise them where to go and spend the rest of the day creating a book, or painting a series for a gallery show, or create postcards, greeting cards, dolls and websites. This was usually followed by the persons to whom I was speaking to, to ask about something they obviously wanted to explore; leading to a discussion, usually joined by others as well, on how to achieve it. The dividing line is how badly does one want it?
There’s a saying that the School of Visual Arts in New York City once used in its ads: “To be good is not enough when you dream of being great.” We all have dream clients that we would like to add to our portfolio, but either we don’t know how to reach them or have no idea how to even start. Promotion is not a big subject at art school, and I know way too many creatives who stare at the phone and wonder why it’s not ringing.
There are many ways to promote yourself, and as with any product, you have to target your audience as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible. Let’s go over some problems and solutions.
If you want people to know you and consider you a valuable contact, then you must promote yourself. If you see your career as being surrounded by rainbows and unicorns, then may you be paid with singing flowers and pixie sparkles. If you look at your career as a business, then as with any business, you must promote it.
"The need is constant. The gratification is instant." That’s from the American Red Cross, and it was copy that I plugged into a poster for a blood drive at a comics convention. Sitting beside an image of the sexy and well-endowed Vampirella, the words took on a different meaning. Oops!
But I was struck by how these words are a perfect assessment of our society. We want it all, instantly and as cheap as possible. We are a Walmart culture. Fast and cheap have entered our every pore and changed our society, our lives and our livelihoods. Compounding our daily worries and pressures, we now fight to keep our industry professional and profitable. Clients want our blood for free, and the “hacks” are designing us out of existence.
Most people blame the laptop and easy-to-use software. Many blame art schools for favoring quantity over quality. Can any of these be blamed merely for doing business? If someone who has no idea what they're doing wants to purchase a computer and a slew of graphics software and call themselves a designer, then they're in business.
Smashing Editorial: Please notice that the language in some parts of this article may be very informal. If you think you might be offended, please stop reading this article now.
I hate the division represented in this title. It’s the major stumbling block in modern business. Power struggle is never constructive, and it at least doubles workforce effort at a time when streamlined is crucial for a positive ROI. You can spell “team” from the word “marketing,” but I’ve yet to see a sense of it in marketing. What can one spell from “creative”? “Reactive”? I’ve seen plenty of that, and for good reason.
Don’t get me wrong: I love marketing as a practice! Relatively speaking, marketing is a fairly new practice (marketing in the sense of "public", broad mass marketing, applied to products in the modern age — ed.), and one that has to evolve each day to keep up with consumerism and technology. As a designer, coming up with marketing ideas is orgasmic. Guerilla, sabotage and viral marketing are the work of genius, which is why we don’t see them very often. But you are probably thinking horrid thoughts about marketing practitioners right now, so let’s rethink for a second.
You’ve met with the client, done the creative brief and gotten some kind of written agreement or contract. Work has been creative and progressing nicely. The joy and hope for life slowly return as the scent of money looms. So, with an overdose of sleeping pills no longer your retirement plan, you start to delete your suicide note and dispose of the envelopes containing instructions on terminating your accounts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Then, someone crunches some numbers and realizes that you can’t be paid what was agreed on. Suddenly, your contract becomes either a weapon in a brutal fight or a token to keep the job going in the hope of some pay and a return client.
Many people start an assignment only after a percentage of the job has been paid. 50% is nice, but convincing the big clients that they are not your bank is becoming harder and harder, and the promise of payment in 30 days does not give you a warm feeling inside.
No matter where you go in the known universe, there is design-by-committee. It has become a pecking order of disaster for the society that used to pride itself on being a mover and shaker and that allowed its mavericks and dreamers to innovate their way to success. In a business climate fueled by fear and the “Peter Principle,” as it is today, a decision not made is a tragedy averted. So, decision by committee provides a safe and often anonymous process for finger-pointing down the line… inevitably leading to the creative, of course.
Wikipedia describes it thus: The Peter Principle is the principle that "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise which also introduced the "salutary science of Hierarchiology", "inadvertently founded" by Peter. It holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently.
Many things about our business make one glad to be creative; and there certainly are things that destroy the very soul and one's will to carry on. Client interaction can either lead to strong relationships that last a lifetime or make you feel low and worthless. We look at our designs as our own children, and why not? We create our work from our mind and very being. We have an emotional attachment to our work. But we also need to earn a living from that creativity, and there lies the door to our problems and aggravation.
The question arose on a blog about how to screen a client. Perhaps talking about it in terms of how to spot a sketchy client would be a bit much, but like any freelancer, I need to dump my anxieties on those who sign my paychecks. From corporate clients to the single-owner businesses, clients are our lifeblood… and they can be a cruel, cruel mistress. No wonder we drink.