Archive for June, 2013

Work for food

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

I’ve recently been exposed to two different local companies looking to get work done for what is essentially free.


The first one was a request by a reputable event venue looking for the visual identity for an international Jazz festival. Their posting vas very raw, saying only what they want (a poster) and what they give in return (tickets to the festival and a t-shirt).

The second one was a request by a PR agency for a month long stint doing “PR and Event Management”. The posting is humorous and very well written (PR agency, remember?) and also includes a list of what they want (full day of hard work) and what they give in return (lunchmoney).


As usually both postings leave a lot of room for interpretation and of course people base their interpretation on their feelings towards the company. To make things even I’ll try to make two interpretations for both – one optimistic and one pessimistic.


The first request is targeted at aspiring designers who have either just finished their studies and cannot find work or are trying to find work as designers even though they studied something else. Maybe they’re just Jazz fans trying design while unemployed. Since the event organizer has a team of internal designers they’re not actually looking for all the applications (logo, poster, booklet, tickets,…) – they want a poster that communicates an idea (agencies will tell you that ideas are hard to come by, entrepreneurs will sell them a-dime-a-dozen). Since designers are usually hired based on their portfolios (preferring published work) winning this could jumpstart a career. It could even possibly lead to a job for a music label or another, bigger music festival.

The second request is targeted at people who know that in PR and Event Management it’s all about who you know and who you’ve worked with. This means that working for a company on multinational accounts can lead to a job in either this same company or at the multinationals – which could get you far. The company is only asking for a month of “free” work and is actually using this as a testing period for a full-time hire after the month expires. They’re a good standing company with loads of work and the salary is great. Since you’ll be working a lot with a great bunch of people you’re learn so much that after the month is over you’ll not only have the offer from this company, but from at least three more.


The first request is a way to get a free visual identity because they want to fire the internal design team as soon as possible. The winner will have to do all the applications for free after he wins and the tickets will be the worst you can possibly get for a concert, while the t-shirt will be of the wrong size. They will not allow you to sign your work or advertise that you did it.

The second request is a way to pay less for people who will pass out flyers at events, make coffee and type CEOs recordings of PR notices. It also includes sending PR emails from to media and journalists and reminding them every day until they publish. Since you’ll be working hard all day there won’t be any time for mentoring or observing what others do and after you’re done coworkers won’t even remember your name.


People who supported one and not the other were probably thinking of one as a pessimist and the other as an optimist. Knowing the companies they might be right, but that doesn’t change the fact that none of these scenarios are probably true.

The economist in me will say that if you can make people work for you for free, just so they get an entry in their CV, you should. But is that the right thing to do? I don’t think so. It’s a tricky subject and there’s a lot of different arguments for and against such requests and quite a few of them surfaced in the discussions on Slovenian social media. The bottom line for me is that it’s a slippery slope… But that’s a whole new post.