Working for ‘exposure’, is it worth it?

“We can’t pay you but we offer great exposure…” Does this sound familiar to you? Some call it exposure, we like to call it creative exploitation. But is working for ‘exposure’ worth it? In this blog, we’ll dive deeper into the ‘exposure scheme’ that pretty much every creative professional will have to deal with at some point in their career. Continue reading if you are ready to be paid for your work.

Small music performances at cafes, flyers for a friends’ new business, or a 2 min dance solo at a non-profit event. Creative professionals are asked more commonly to work for free than any other type of professional. There is a common misconception in society that creative work is just a hobby. As if creative professionals don’t rely on their creativity to pay the bills. Creativity is what drives society to innovation but yet it is severely undervalued. Instead of paying creative professionals for their work, organizations and businesses often promise ‘exposure’ in return for their services. But in reality, ‘exposure’ is just a cheap way of covering up the exploitation of creative, and often young, talent.

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What does working for ‘exposure’ bring you?

When you get a proposal to work for ‘exposure’, you have to ask yourself: “What does exposure with this particular brand or organization mean for you? How will you benefit?”.

Nowadays, the term ‘exposure’ is used very loosely in relation to the creative industries. It’s as if anyone can offer exposure without actually having the exposure themselves. In that case, how much does exposure pay you? The answer is none. 

Exposure can be measured by the reach of a business. Part of a business’ reach is its online following, business partners, and customers. The idea of working for exposure is to use your current client’s reach to get your work in front of the right potential clients/organizations who will upon hiring actually pay you for your work. Technically you could see it as a funnel. You do some work for exposure, the client exposes your work to their reach including a lot of other potential clients, and voila, you just booked yourself 5 fully paid projects as a result of the exposure you were given for your work. Exposure leads to paid work, right?

Yeah, that indeed sounds too good to be true. 

Exposure isn’t a form of payment

The harsh reality is that the so-called ‘exposure promise’ rarely directly leads to any paid work. It is important to state this because many young creatives who just graduated are still lured into the ‘exposure scheme’ with the promise that ‘exposure’ will lead them to more work. It might lead to more work, just not paid work. In essence, working for exposure is equivalent to working for free. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise because ‘exposure’ is a hollow promise presented as a desirable ‘what-if’ potential. Honestly, it’s a bit like the lottery, you never know what you’re going to get out of it. 

More importantly, by working for exposure you make yourself susceptible to creative exploitation. You shouldn’t give the impression that working for ‘exposure’ is okay to you because the next thing you know every job offered to you includes ‘exposure’ as a form of payment. Question… how are you going to pay the bills when you are not being paid for your work? To prevent this from happening do the following: simply say no. 

The word ‘exposure’ serves as a red flag, as red as they come. Working for exposure will not get you anywhere and ‘exposure’ does not serve as a form of payment. Don’t let your creativity, time, and effort be exploited because you deserve to be paid for it.

You may work for free…

If you do want to do a certain job for free, never do it for ‘exposure’ but do it for other reasons. There is a fun online tool that lets you figure out if you should do the job for free or not. We suggest you take a look and get a better understanding of when working for free is okay, and when it’s not. Spoiler: it almost never is!

To finish this article we leave you with the following thought. What if there was a world where creative professionals, like you reading, would be paid fairly for their work… Doesn’t that start with all of us setting the right example?

This article was written by Wouter Vertogen

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