The Working for Free?! panel took place on Friday at Summer in the City 2017. It featured creators Emily Hartridge and Steven Bridges, as well as cinematographer Ciaran OBrien, Social Chain’s media director Hannah Anderson, and Free Focus talent manager James Hancock. It was chaired by Social Chain’s head of talent, Sean Brown.
The panel was based around whether or not there are any benefits to creators working for free, and if they were devaluing themselves by doing so. It opened up SitC’s brand new Gaming Stage, with Sean’s questions leading to a freewheeling discussion on working with brands and charities.
After introductions, in which Ciaran admitted he was “not a magician, unfortunately”, Sean began by asking the panellists their initial thoughts on working for free. Hannah – who has experience with a large social media following – stated that it depends on the situation, saying she personally would be open to it if she loved the work, but noted that many YouTubers do now create for a living. James stated that Free Focus are big advocates of working for free when it’s appropriate, giving the example of a recent campaign for the British Heart Foundation.
Emily was asked what she thought of the idea of unpaid work with the opportunity for future exposure, and replied that “brands want the most they could get for free”, stating that she wouldn’t work with a corporate company whom she was aware have money to spend. Steven told the audience about issues he has had with companies asking for “proof of concept”, and said he feels that, due to the nature of magic requiring 90% of the work to be figuring the tricks and video out, he is more likely to say no from now on. Sean followed on from this by stating that an average pitch for a brand deal now costs around £5-10k of backroom work.
Ciaran took a harder line on this, describing himself as “probably the angriest person on the panel”. He stated that while he had no issue working for free for charities or peers, a company asking a creator to sell a product expecting the same thing is “outrageous”, and that he views the exposure argument as “nonsense and exploitation”.
Hannah asked if creators would ask for pay if they were approached by a “branded” channel wanting to collaborate, to which Steven stated that he would potentially work for free if he could get a good video out of it, while Sean and James agreed that setting a day rate would be best.
Steven mentioned that a friend of his has gotten big from pages such as UNILAD and LADbible “freebooting” their videos and linking back to them, which stirred up a discussion – Ciaran stated that the idea sits uneasily with him if it seems like the page benefits more than the creator, while Steven said he felt like he personally wouldn’t mind as he would almost definitely get the bigger boost. Emily agreed, saying that she doesn’t mind if popular magazines and pages repost her work. She also admitted that one of her videos has been uploaded to a porn site – “That was a great day for my father”. Hannah told the panel that, even if you do get a boost, the practice is illegal, and stated that if you did the same to these pages, they would almost definitely demand payment.
The next question involved how people would approach working with charities. Emily admitted that she felt torn, as while she knows many charities have the budget to pay her, she can feel guilty about asking them. James agreed that charities’ marketing budget is a grey area, while Sean stated that Social Chain would absolutely ask for payment if charities wanted a creator to work on a “large social campaign”.
The final question involved what creators should charge for brand deals. Sean stated that there is currently no real “stability” and set market rate, while James said that the going rate entirely depends on the person. Emily admitted that YouTube has “really ruined her view of money”, as some brands offer such an “insane” amount of money that it can affect how she views smaller deals. She stated that she feels uncomfortable talking about money with brands, so she appreciates having an agent – “so then they look like the dick!”
As someone with a more conventional way of working, Ciaran explained how he set his own day rate, which he broke down after graduating from university based on his own self-worth and the cost of renting equipment. He admits that this can be tough – “How do you put a pound figure next to yourself?” – but says you have to hold your nerve if you get pressure back about the rate.
At the end of the panel, an audience member who works for Activision mentioned that he disagreed with the idea that unpaid work devalues creators, as in his work with gamer channels there is a “clear value exchange”, where creators get early releases and get to monetise their videos, and wondered if the panel agreed that these deals can be mutually beneficial. James admitted that they can, but says that companies like Activision are fortunate as they have a product people inherently care about, whereas many companies have to entice people to promote their products more.
Photos by Christy Ku.
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