“Whoa There, Big Boy, That’s a Lot of Money”

We certainly don’t want to hear that, do we? I imagine most copywriters fear this reaction whenever they quote fees. I did, ever so briefly, many moons ago, but then I learned to take responsibility for it, and for preventing it.

A few years ago, I was wandering the Forum Shops mall in Las Vegas. A Bernini suit in a store window caught my eye, and I went in to investigate. I quickly discovered there were no price tags on any of the suits. When a salesman glided over, I fingered the suit and asked him its price.

He asked what I did for a living, and a friend of mine tagging along helpfully volunteered that I was a professional speaker. The salesman then asked me about 20 questions about that. What kind of groups did I speak for? How large were the audiences? Did I consider myself a performer? Acknowledging it rude curiosity, still, what kind of fees were paid to a speaker like me?

On being told my compensation wasn’t just fees but sales of resources, he said “It matters monetarily, then, how you are perceived by the audience?”

While this give and take went on, he managed to get me into the suit coat, in front of the mirror, into the dressing room, into the pants, back in front of the mirror, a tailor summoned, pins inserted.

At least five times I asked the suit’s price without getting an answer. Along the way, he established and commented on my status, the importance of my appearance to my authority, the value of each engagement, and the number of important engagements I did a year – a context for the value of the suit. That context very, very important when I finally heard the price. It was still the most money I’d ever paid for a suit, but it didn’t loom as large as it would have, absent context. I’ve very much enjoyed owning the suit.

There was more than artful salesmanship in play there. There was ‘place’ – after all, you expect obscenely high prices if shopping in the mall attached to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. If you know much of anything, you know walking into this store, you aren’t going to find anything you’d consider a bargain. You have some immunity to sticker shock, some expectation of a high price.

There’s timing – a good many shoppers here are splurging in celebration of just winning in the casino, or showing off for a member of the opposite sex. I wasn’t, but many shoppers here are. There’s environment – opulence. There’s mind-set. And so on. And, there’s the matter of the right potential customer walking in the door in the first place.

These days, I very rarely hear “that’s a lot of money” from any new client. Expectations are pre-set. I promote the fact that I command high fees and royalties, and that project fees routinely run upwards from $100,000.00. (Thus, often, when any fee less than that is quoted, there’s relief.) The prospective client has traveled to see me and paid a fee for the privilege.

Still, I take great care with context. There is probing and discussion of the economics of his business, so that a framework for properly valuing the assets I’m going to create for him exists. There is also the value list built, each component part of the advertising-marketing project identified and listed separately.

By the time I’m done with all this, his reaction to my fee is much the same as mine to the price of the Bernini suit. It’s still stiff. It may very well be more money than he has ever paid anyone to prepare marketing materials before. But the fee is not entirely unexpected. He is not blind-sided by it. There is context.

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Published: March 1, 2010

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