Because I am vegan, and have been for 18 years, and because we live a life in which we try to minimise our footprint on the earth, this sometimes throws up some interesting dilemmas for me and my work choices.
Let me give you some examples:
- I don’t eat meat, so what do I do if a famous burger chain wants me to work for them?
- What about a tobacco firm, as a non-smoker?
- How about that coffee chain who are famous but infamous for not paying their taxes?
and so on. We’ve been vegan recycling wood-powered ethically-buying people for a long time (I’ve blogged about this sort of thing before so I’ll not go into detail) and we’re used to making difficult decisions, or ones that involve traveling further, designing solutions that don’t exist yet (like the biodiesel car) or spending more money - sometimes all three!
However there can sometimes be a sharp and uncomfortable juxtaposition between the work and the the rest of the life. I may not buy or use a company’s products or use an organisation personally, but I may well be asked to produce work for them - and have been.
- I would never read the Daily Mail and loathe its bullying right-wing content, but I did an illustration for its magazine.
- I made a really nice ad campaign for a sausage company, but I’m vegan.
- I worked on a famous coffee chain's Christmas campaign, but I don’t like to go into their shops due to a history of unethical practices.
- I did some work for A Big Burger Chain, but have been very vocal about their practices for years, even falling out with my best mate once because she was taking her children there as ‘a treat’!
How can I possibly live with these apparent double standards, you ask?
Well let me explain.
We have The Criteria. The first blanket rule is that you never have a blanket rule. THE most important rule is ‘assess every job on its own merits’. Which disallows you from putting yourself in any kind of straitjacket sounding like ‘I’d Never Work For (so and so)’.
The process looks a bit like this drawing, and has evolved over many years.
The diagram is messy and can be read in different orders, and that’s because the questions don’t necessarily follow on from one another, so it’s far from an algorithmic process:
- Do I like/approve of the company or organisation I’m being asked to work for?
If it’s a yes, that’s the dilemma pretty much ended there.
If it’s a no, then we go on examine the following.
If I’m indifferent, then it’s onto the next question regardless.
- Do I like the brief?
Is it clever, creative, will it give me an opportunity to make something which stretches me, or indeed flexes the best of the skills that I have?
- Do I like the art director?
Have I worked for them before, and was it a positive experience?
Are they likely to hire me again if I make a cracking job of this?
- Is the client high-profile? (the answer is quite probably yes, in this type of 'ethical dilemma’ scenario). Will I be able to use the work in my folio? (i.e.: is it for a company that can’t allow public sharing of the work, a pharmaceutical one or a governmental internal piece, for example.)
If so, will it raise my profile in my peers’ eyes and help get me more work?
- Does the work I’m being asked to do suggest a change of direction for the company, or is it part of a campaign to launch a new side to the company which I approve of and is a departure from their ‘old ways’? An example might be a supermarket hiring me to help launch its 100% organic section, or a company announcing its switch away from palm oil.
- How’s the fee looking?
Is it large enough to override any ‘no’s on the previous three questions?
Is it sufficient to take it and do something positive with it?
Is it so big that it falls into the category of ‘life changer’, where the money will enable me to have more choice about what work I take on for some time to come?
Or maybe it’s large enough to allow me to do some work for free for an organisation I perhaps feel quite passionate about?
- What will happen if I don’t take it on?
I know what I’ll spend the money on if I get it: non-dairy milk, organic food, clothes from small British companies; it’ll go into my ethical pension, pay for the organic veg from our friends’ farm, support fellow artists and craftsmen when I buy their work and hire them to do jobs. And so on.
Will the next artist? We can never know, of course, they might do the same, but it’s a question we ask because if *I* do the job, I can guarantee the money will be spent ethically and carefully, for the main part.
Sometimes the fee is great, but the brief is awful, and you know already you won’t feel comfortable or enthusiastic doing it. Couple that with your feelings about the client in the first place, and you’re running out of reasons to do it.
The fee could actually be quite low, but the brief is awesome, and you’re excited by it because you can already envisage what you’ll make and how it’ll feed your folio.
Couple THAT with the (most likely) high-profile client, and you’ve got a reason to do it.
The point is, you’ll never be in our studio and hear the words ‘I’ll never work for…’ - because when you’re balancing life, work, reputation, creativity and opportunity with ethics and moral standing, this is no place for a snap decision.
So, those jobs I listed earlier, the sausages etc. Why did I do them? Answers, with work shown!
- Daily Mail: I was just getting to grips with a burgeoning illustration career and this was going to be in millions of homes, the subject matter was satirical and funny, and the art director was great.
= Exposure + good experience + well known client + an illustration I was very happy with = YES.
(It got me a lot of work too).
- Sausage company: Small, independent Irish family owned firm wanting to grow their profile, a very well-loved brand. It had GREAT copywriting and the ads that resulted were lovely.
= Great brief + small family firm + resulting very strong, very ‘me' ads for my folio, at a time I was trying to build my advertising side = YES.
- The coffee job: Another artist I really admire was also working on the campaign and we would be working together. Some of the ads were in a foreign language so I had the opportunity to practice working in other languages while ending up with pieces of work which would ‘speak’ to other, non-English speaking markets. Good fee, nice art director/company.
= Exposure + working with a great collaborator + practice at something new + well known client + good fee = YES.
- The burger chain job: The company have introduced little fruit bags to their children’s meals. This can only be a good thing - a step in the right direction! The illustrations I did were charming and the client was an ad agency I’ve worked for before.
= Helping feed into a positive change/addition for the organisation + nice brief + good art director and agency = YES.
Those are just some of many examples, and yes, there are still jobs I’ve said no to - but those, and the reasons I said no, will remain a professional secret!
And you see, the other bonus of having this system, where everything remain up for review, re-assessment and re-examination, is that when companies sometimes DO begin to make positive changes within their business practices - which at least two of the aforementioned companies have been - you can keep your own approach to that company flexible and remain open-minded. Which in our job is really, really important.
Say no by all means, but never say never.