April 8, 2013
Are You Getting Exposure, Or Getting Exploited?

You’re in charge. Being relied upon comes with the territory – and so does getting taken advantage of.

While I’m not a CEO (well, I am the CEO of me, so there is that), people often present me with opportunities. You get them, too. In my case I get invited to speak, to write articles, to do webcasts or videos… it’s all very flattering.

Well, flattering until the other person says: “… and you will receive tremendous exposure from this opportunity!”

Loosely translated, “tremendous exposure” almost always means “we’re not paying you.” That’s when “exposure” can feel more like exploitation.

Keep in mind I’m not talking about donating time, money or services to charity. Worthy causes deserve our support. The problem lies with requests from for-profit ventures. In those cases, we often don’t get exposure – we let ourselves be exploited.

How can you tell the difference? There are two standards you can apply to any “opportunity”:

  • YNK: “You Never Know…” is based on the same logic as playing the lottery; after all, you have to play to win, right? So you write articles or participate in videos or agree to speak to groups because, well, you never know what might result. The problem is, the result is usually nothing – just like playing the lottery.
  • WIIFM: “What’s In It For Me?” is based on ensuring there is a pro quo as well as a quid. The tradeoff doesn’t have to be equal, of course, but applying the WIIFM standard helps ensure your effort will pay off a tangible way.

If WIIFM sounds selfish, in a way it is – but in a good way. Using WIIFM as your standard ensures you evaluate exposure as a deliverable with tangible outcomes.

Exposure is only beneficial if you reach the audience you want to reach. If you aren’t likely to reach your target audience you’ve strayed into YNK territory, the land where time, money and resources go to be wasted.

Three examples of how the standard can be applied:

  1. An SPCA shelter asks me to write promotional literature. Pay? No. Exposure? No. But, a worthy cause, one I believe in, so WIIFM? I felt good about helping. (Never overlook emotional benefits.)
  2. A writer’s group asks me to speak at their conference. No pay, but, “It will be great exposure,” they enthuse. Not really: Aspiring writers aren’t my target audience since aspiring writers don’t hire ghostwriters. Still, maybe someone would decide to hire me? YNK… well, actually I do know. They won’t. WIIFM? Not much at all. Plus it didn’t fit my schedule. So I declined.
  3. A national industry organization asks me to speak on productivity improvement. The pay was reasonable and the exposure was great: CEOs, VCs, movers and shakers — my target audience. The opportunity to get in front of that group was great exposure and resulted in a couple of book gigs as well as two consulting jobs. WIIFM? A lot.

Apply the WIIFM standard to the opportunities you receive.

After all, would you ever use YNK as a basis or justifying advertising expense? No, unless you had time and money to burn. In advertising, the only standard you apply is WIIFM: Exposure to your target audience and to potential customers.

Always evaluate “opportunities” to gain exposure using the same standard, even if at first it feels selfish. Where your time and resources are concerned, you should be selfish.

Otherwise, exposure is more like exploitation.