Lucky are the doctors, therapists, lawyers and journalists â€“ among others – when it comes to professional codes. Their days are governed by rules and laws – by an organized body of ethical standards that deems â€œyes we canâ€ or â€œno we cannot.â€ Itâ€™s not that there arenâ€™t gray areas, but at least theyâ€™re held to a baseline of collective agreement. For creativeâ€™s, consultants, entrepreneurs, marketers, in other words, most of us â€“ we call our own shots. At a minimum, we aim for ethical, but there are hundreds of questions that live in a pretty gray area.
I heard Anthony Bourdain interviewed on NPR last weekend and he talked about his own code, mostly bleeped for national radio – that basically said he wouldnâ€™t live his life or be part of anything he couldnâ€™t stand behind. Nor would he work with people he â€œdidnâ€™t genuinely like.â€ He was more graphic (as expected), but in a nutshell, said – no bullsh$t. Itâ€™s easier to say that once youâ€™re successful and in a place of power. But what about when youâ€™re still in the hustle? Still building? Still pitching? Still perseverating over â€œyes I shouldâ€ or â€œno I shouldnâ€™tâ€?
I had a great brand ask me to pitch work on spec recently, to write messaging as a means of interviewing for the (big) project. I wanted the work. I really like the client and brand. But I know better than to invest a day in tagline development without a complete brief, without feeling invested, and without an official engagement. Doing business development and client woo-ing may be part of the job, but all of us who work in undefined business landscapes have to recognize a fools errand when we see one.Â Submitting a half-baked idea in order to â€˜seemâ€™ the most clever / creative / smart isnâ€™t the way I want to win an account. I have a website, a portfolio and a weekly blogâ€¦ if they want to see the work.Â You likely do, too.
I can tell when my code has broken links pretty easily; Iâ€™m uncomfortable with the arrangement (at best), or annoyed with terms (trying to understand why I agreed) Â â€“ at worst. It happens much less than it used to, but it still happens #stilllearning.
We all need codes. But when theyâ€™re on a case by case basis, when theyâ€™re too malleable, when we make exceptions and call it the rule, we break them without ceremony.
Have a standard. Make sure you can live with it and hold yourself to it. If not you, then who?