Monday, September 8, 2008

the profession and pro bono

A few weeks ago, R received an interesting request from a New-York based ad agency/PR firm. The agency/firm asked him - in his capacity as a historian of the American West and of tourism - to contribute to their new project for Rosewood Resorts. Apparently, this highly-exclusive hotel chain had just renovated their Rancho San Ysidro Resort.* And the resort wanted to expand the (mythic) Californio experience for their guests. According to the agency/firm, R could contribute to this by compiling a list of recommended readings - fiction and non-fiction historical - for guests to imbibe while lounging at San Ysidro. R considered it (he figured this crowd would probably go for Ramona over Factories in the Field), and he replied to ad agency rep saying that he would be happy to compile a list. He told her he charged $100/hour and the project would take between 2 and 3 hours.

Imagine his surprise when ad agency rep replied that big NY ad agency (which advertises for, among other companies, Porsche) had not allocated a budget line for this particular aspect of the Rosewood account. In other words, she expected him to do this for free. I think R was annoyed; I certainly was. In what world do professional historians - who have spent years professionalizing and refining their skills (and this, just to get to the job market) - give away their specialized training? And to a for-profit ad agency developing promotional materials for an overpriced, for-profit luxury resort? Moreover, what does this say about the impression that ad agency rep has of historians? (She could have been a recent graduate who thinks that history professors just teach - and do all this "other stuff" without getting paid. She could be a seasoned rep who considers the work that historians do peripheral to her world of multi-million dollar advertising accounts.) Perhaps the most disturbing part of this story is that ad agency rep will probably happen upon some beleaguered person with a PhD in history who will do this work for free.**

So, I hope that if you're a scholar (or a scholar-in-the-making), you never do something so professionally demeaning. And if you happen to work in advertising, remember that my colleagues and I expect to paid for the work that we do!

*Nightly rates at San Ysidro begin at $650/night and go up to $6000. Did I mention that the resorts were highly-exclusive?
**Despite the title of my post, this work is NOT pro bono as it contributes nothing to the greater good. (I support historians who do actual pro bono work from time to time.)

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