Content marketers – don’t be afraid to work for exposure this year

Take an agile approach to building your personal brand – and don’t let anybody tell you it’s wrong to do so

January 10, 2017

Exposure Bucks

I’m a content marketer – and I’m also a concert photographer. If I’m awake and not writing, creating or thinking about content, then the chances are I’m either at a concert with my camera, planning a trip to a concert with my camera or going through the pictures that I took at a concert with my camera.

Photography is a passionate part of my life every bit as much as marketing is – and in recent months, it’s thrown up an issue that I think is relevant to anybody who has a passion about moving forward in their life and work. As we head into a New Year with appetites and ambitions for making more of ourselves, it’s an issue that I just had to get off my chest.

I don’t necessarily get paid for every concert that I shoot. In fact, the majority I shoot for free. This doesn’t bother me, because I love what I’m doing and that’s reward enough. Effectively, I’m working for exposure – for having the opportunity to show what I can do, build my brand and hone my skills. I get a great sense of fulfillment, and a lot of fun, from doing something I love. To be honest, I don’t really think about it as work at all.

Is working for exposure wrong?
It turns out that my willingness to shoot concerts for nothing is now becoming an issue. I’ve read complaints and criticisms from other photographers screaming at the top of their lungs about how it’s unacceptable and unfair – how people like me are undercutting the market, disrupting in an irresponsible way. It’s a bit like the huge protests around Uber from French taxi drivers during the Cannes advertising festival a year or so ago – only now it’s people who love going to shows and photographing them who are in the firing line.

I wanted to use this post to shout back just a little bit – because I feel there’s a fundamental problem with this point of view. Being prepared to work hard to build a personal brand isn’t just something I do as a photographer; it’s also how I’ve built my career as a content marketer. And it’s exactly how I would recommend anyone else go about building a career in content marketing.

People have a right to build personal brands – and they’re not going to stop
I’ve written hundreds of guest blogs and keynoted dozens of conferences around the world without charging anything for doing so. Of course, I’m fortunate to be able to do so as part of my role at LinkedIn – building my own brand and that of the business, generating value in a way that means I don’t have to charge.

It won’t work for everyone – especially those that make a career from speaking – but it’s given me a life that I love, both personally and professionally. I absolutely defend to the hilt my right to work hard, and with passion, in order to gain the exposure that I need to be successful. If money were the only currency I worked for, it would have seriously restricted my freedom to live the life and career that I have. Money is not the only unit of value that it’s worth exchanging time for.

I realise that this is a complex issue – and it’s an issue that will raise its head again and again across all types of industry in a digital economy that’s changing the way people work. I’m not here to tell you what’s right or wrong – but I can talk with honesty about my own experience and how that relates to others. I know that it’s my willingness to work for exposure that has got me to where I am today. I know that an appetite for doing so is a fair reflection of somebody’s energy and commitment – how much they want things to happen for them. And I know that there will never be a shortage of people who are willing to work hard to build their personal brand.

If working for exposure is disruptive, then embrace it
Rather than dismissing people who want to work for exposure, I’d urge anybody in marketing to see them as a challenge worth rising to. These days, feeling too comfortable in what you do is usually a warning sign – we work in a competitive business where people are quite rightly working hard and looking for an opportunity to break through. If you lose your edge and stop developing then you’re in trouble. Are you hungry for learning new skills? Evolving what you have to offer? Surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you? Giving yourself the freedom to work in new ways and embrace new projects and gigs often holds the key to doing so. And that will often involve being prepared to invest some of your time for free.

Working for exposure is not the end-goal of a marketing career – or a career in photography. It’s a starting point for getting where you want to be. Later on, it’s part of the process of continuous education and self-improvement that you need to keep going through to stay on top of your game. I’m lucky that I can now choose where I spend my time and where I contribute my voice – but I don’t plan on ever stopping working for free in order to make myself a better marketer or photographer.

If you’re looking for ways to keep pushing yourself forward in 2017, then don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t work for exposure either.