An appalling trend is on the rise in which business owners in a creative field are being asked to work for free for people who self-identify as "influencers."
The latest example of this undermining of artistic professions is trending on Imgur, and it involves a wedding photographer being taken advantage of.
A "publicist" exploited the services of photography company, Betrothed & Co., by offering "exposure" on social media platforms to advance their business profile.
The publicist referring to herself as "Melissa" emailed Betrothed & Co and asked for a documentary-style video and 1,000 images, basically for free, and the company's curt response led her on a rampage that involved a cancer story and the use of a racial slur.
Betrothed & Co. posted the unbelievable thread on Imgur that began with Melissa's bold request.
You may want to sit down for this doozy.
"My client is a well known social media influencer who is planning to be married at the ______ on the 10th April 2021. In the lead up to her wedding, beginning this summer, she would like a documentary-style video (an hour-long) and photos taken at bridal fittings which can be shared with her followers. On the day of the wedding, she would like a video documenting the whole day (must be 1 hour + in length) and a package that includes approximately 1,000 photos."
"In exchange, she is willing to extensively promote your business to followers on Instagram and Facebook (combined amount of 55,000) including Story Shout Outs and will offer a discount of at least 25% on your packages."
"Just so you are aware, we have approached four other similar businesses in your area so a fast response will be beneficial to your business."
Frankie and Laura, from Betrothed and Co smelled a rat, especially since 55,000 followers is not deemed a sufficient amount to boost a company's internet presence.
They challenged Melissa by giving her the benefit of the doubt, sort of.
"Thanks for your email, and we really appreciate the offer. We don't usually offer our services for anything other than our regular going rate, however we would consider making an exception in this case. Firstly, we would just like to check if there might have been a typo in your original email, specifically relating to a missing zero on the amount of combined followers your client has across all their platforms?
"As I'm sure you probably know, 55,000 is not usually the level of following which can command the free transfer of products worth between £3-£4k ($3.38 - $4.51) in total, especially when you take into account bots, duplicate accounts and the types of followers who are not our target audience. As another example, we have friends that have more than 55,000 followers on one single platform, and they have even been known to pay certain suppliers a fair days wage for their goods and services."
"Having said all that, I'm aware that this wedding date is nearly two years off, so if you are confident predicting that by April 2021 your client will have gained the minimum level of following that can realistically put them in the category of "influencer" then we would be happy to make some sort of arrangement."
"However, we would in this case require a clause in the contract stating that promoting us in your Stories to anything less than half a million followers across one single platform by the time of the wedding will trigger the full price in pounds sterling for the services you have requested."
"Thanks also for your thoughtful suggestion of a 25% cut in our fee for any followers that book through your client's promotional posts. Previously when we have received recommendations and promotions from high-value clients, we have been able to actually raise our prices in reflection of their strong reputations."
"So in that vein, it's helpful to know in advance that being linked with your client will automatically knock 25% off the perceived value of the product we spent years honing."
"Finally, we really appreciate how valued as artists and professionals you have made us feel by informing us that you have only sent this exact same email to four other companies, and that a fast response will secure us the wedding rather than any artistic considerations."
"Likewise, please get back to us as soon as possible if you have any further questions, and we can start to get something locked in the diary!"
Melissa didn't take kindly to the detailed email. Oblivious about her audacious request, she called the company's emailed response "unprofessional" and "appalling."
"Frankly my client and I find that kind of unprofessional email appalling and we will no longer be considering you as contenders to shoot what would have been a very lucrative wedding for you."
"It would of been a great opportunity for you to network with other social media influencers and some celebrities who will be making TV appearances later in the year."
"On top of that we have had other businesses reply to us with additional offers of goods and services (basically paying us to work with them) rather than giving us a load of gyp like what you have."
She added that the wedding was "really important to my client as her mother has been diagnosed with cancer" and that it was "really unfair of you to be so mean when you could of just said no politely."
Then she threatened to tarnish the company's reputation through online bullying.
"Please don't email again as we will have to name and shame you if you continue with this abuse."
Betrothed & Co. were willing to risk being shamed and wrote back suggesting the publicist should have given her scathing, and hastily written, reply a once-over for grammatical errors.
Melissa is, after all, in the business of communications.
"First of all, I would like to offer you a few apologies. I know we did encourage you to get back to us as quick as possible, and whilst we do really appreciate your swift reply, we would have been equally happy for you to take a couple of deep breaths before hitting 'Reply.'"
"Believe me, no-one hates grammar pedants more than I do, but giving your email a little once over might have been prudent given that you supposedly work in the communications industry."
An Imgur commenter couldn't help feeling offended this person used her name.
"My name is Melissa, and I'm feeling really attacked right now." - roughandrowdyways
Others couldn't believe the self-entitlement on display.
"It's funny how these 'influencers' actually think they're important in their lives especially enough to try to con honest working people." – jellybeandaddyjl
"I'd like to work for free for you but there's all these people sending me letters asking me to pay for things. Also sometimes I like to eat." – abulurdb
Betrothed & Co. was just getting warmed up with their response and clarified the publicist's referral to 'celebrities.'
"Secondly, apologies if our forthright attitude means we've forfeited the opportunity of networking with 'Celebrities who will be on TV later this year.' (Or in non-PR-speak: 'People who have never been on TV.')"
"We'll just need to take this one on the chin and try to rebuild our business as best we can."
They also schooled Melissa on what "abusive" language means and referred to the racial slur about Romani people she casually dropped earlier as a prime example.
"Also, it's been a long day and I'm possibly being a little slow, but I'm struggling to find any abuse in our last email to you."
"However I'll give you the benefit of the doubt here, and if you can point out the offending 'abusive' passage we'll apologize straight away. (As an FYI, abuse doesn't include sarcasm or snark - which I'm occasionally guilty of! - but for example, using a term such as 'gyp,' - a racially abusive term derived from the word 'gypsy.'"
Then they addressed the client's cancer situation and wondered why it wasn't mentioned up front since there are many sympathetic photographers willing to help out families who are suffering illnesses.
"Putting any ill feeling aside, I would like to offer heartfelt solidarity about your client's mother's cancer. I lost my own mother to this horrible disease 15 years ago, so I can imagine what your client is going through."
"That being said, it's slightly strange that you use that as a tool to guilt-trip us with when absolutely zero mention of this was offered in the original email."
"Speaking personally, it would have been the first thing I would have mentioned if I was seeking a freebie from anyone, as there are countless stories of wedding photographers offering their skills completely gratis to the families of people suffering terminal illnesses."
"In fact, these are just about the only circumstances where I know of wedding suppliers being happily to give up their time for nothing."
"I'm possibly being a bit of a sentimental so-and-so, but maybe this might have been a better angle for you than just offering a few Instagram posts in exchange for several days of skilled work."
According to this commenter, they would've responded differently to the original request.
"Betrothed & Co. is far nicer than I would be. My e-mail would've read, 'Nope - you pay or you get zilch. BYYYYYYYYYYYE!'" – RayAnselmo
"What a well written, professional 'go f**k yourself.' Truly Betrothed & Co. have taste in a well served dish." – Ghost0fDawn
Lastly, Betrothed & Co. apologized for going against the emailing back request.
"We're just a couple of hardworking creatives trying to make a living in a very challenging industry, and occasionally that means standing up for our profession and valuing our craft. If by my replying again you'd like to start the 'naming and shaming' process, then please be my guest. I'm fairly sure the shame will appear, but possibly in unexpected quarters for you and your client."
While there are exceptions, Pixsy encouraged photographers to avoid working for free as it is considered "bad networking and ruins your own perception of value."
According to the Association of Photographers, photographers seldom get the exposure they were promised.
"Too often, work opportunities are presented to photographers on the basis of garnering 'great exposure' in return; the opportunity to have your work seen far and wide, the oft-heard line, 'It'll be great PR for you!'…Trouble is, it rarely pans out that way."
Betrothed & Co. never heard back from Melissa, that we know of.
If you want to make your special day special on a budget, you can learn to do your own photography with the book How To Photograph Absolutely Everything, available here.