Saying no for the sake of quality.
I hate turning down projects, but sometimes it's a matter of professionalism.
It wasn't easy to write this entry but I thought it's necessary to bring up some subjects that affect everyone in the communication industry: flexibility, timings & overpromises. Firstly, because we're not talking enough about these. Second, to expose my professional point of view.
A few months ago I was approached by a quite famous worldwide magazine to make an special edition as a partnership with a top-notch luxury brand, with an advertising agency involved. The idea was to make over a hundred different and quite complex illustrations. There're hundreds if not thousands of these companies in the world so I'm not going to mention brands, names or countries because the situation I'm about to describe is unfortunately universal and could have happen anywhere to anyone. There's no need at all to hint or guess who they were. But summing up, and in the words of Aaron Draplin, it seemed like a Call from the big leagues (which doesn't happen every month or even every year) and I was ready for it.
It was a promising portfolio opportunity and my answer was the usual one for tight deadline projects: that if I double shifted, weekends included, I could meet a more than reasonable deadline without neglecting the details. It has worked for me in several of previous projects and it could have perfectly worked for this one.
To my surprise, their reaction was to say that they needed it to be done in half of the time, non negotiable - more or less like their budget, but I'd prefer to put that reflexion on a side as it didn't make any difference in this situation. How I'm supposed to answer to this when I've already offered 100% of both my working and free time? Agreeing with their terms and working at a faster pace may had temporarily save me a financial headache but it would have been like sweeping under the carpet.
The key here is that the quality of the work would have been absolutely compromissed and I didn't want to have hundreds of illustrations that don't represent my standards at public sight. I already have enough with the very unusually final arts that are changed in the last minute by a third part designer without even asking, becoming something I wouldn't have done under my name. So after a few seconds of quick thinking about other professionals with more experience than me, that I personally know and that would agree to do it, I decided to go ahead with the plain truth: "Well, to be frank, I don't know any illustrator who is capable to do that and that I could suggest you to call. In fact, I'd be suspicious of the outcome if anyone makes such a promise".
It's said that intuition is just the brain processing the combination of information and experiences that were too quickly absorbed by your senses for you to be aware of. That day my intuition told me they trashed me as soon as we hung up the phone. Up to today, I'm even more sure that I'm not being paranoid and that's exactly what happened.
The thing is they finally found an illustrator who said yes and met their impossible deadline. The result? The magazine isn't happy with the outcome. The client isn't amaze with the outcome. And the final art is far away from the illustrator's usual style and quality. After spending a considerable amount of money, will the client stay with these editorial & advertising agency? Was it worth to allow clients to be inflexible? Will the illustrator be called again? Will he/she be recomended for future projects? Does it pay off to be criticized if you've partially filled your pocket? Does it pay off to be critized after all for not filling mine?
I'd love to read other professionals' perspective on this issue, so I invite you to jump and comment your own conclusions.