Low budgets suck

We’ve done a few low budget jobs in our time. We’ve even done some insanely low budget work. Naming no names, but there was a project over summer that nearly ruined us, and also reinforced some ideas that I’d been formulating about underpaid jobs. So much so that I actually wanted to write them down.
This monologue can be summarised with the following: 

Underpaid projects are bad for everyone, not just us.

For those with slightly more patience, I’ll detail this further. I’d like to point out, none of the below is rocket science, in fact it’s pretty much all common sense. It seems to me that sometimes things just need to be said, and said enough so that the negative implications can actually register, and the ramifications be understood.

We care about the work we do, we take pride in it and need it to be good - I see little point in producing mediocre work, anyone can do that. Most of our business comes in because of a certain visual expectation about what we will deliver.

If a project is under budget, the effects on the entire chain are a nightmare. Take us, the supplier. We have to produce a lot of work at cost, or in the worst case, at a loss (that’s right project that can’t be named, I’m looking at you). You know the work-load is very high so you work the team too hard, no-one gets any sleep, and the love for the project goes very much south. Your reputation with the client will take a battering. Any promise of the ‘one day we’ll have proper budgets’ will be meaningless, since the work you’ve done is below your internal standard: it’s too far a leap for the client to realise that, given a proper budget, the work would have been awesome. So not only do you go through hell, you’re damaging your reputation for producing quality work, or your chance of being in the running should a higher budget job come along.

So then let’s take the agency (we do a fare whack of our work for advertising agencies) - they know that the budget is impossibly low, and make a lot of noises about understanding this, but none of these noises are real. In the back of their brains they see awards, creative endeavour and are already comparing the project to other, much more realistically budgeted, projects. The end result will always be one of disappointment. When selling an idea into a client, they should be realistic about what it is they want to do, this is their job. Selling something to the end client under budget is just lining yourself up for a fall. Your project will be difficult, at severe risk of failing and at the very least fraught with having to pull favours, rather than having the bedrock of budget to facilitate your exact needs.

Then the end client (the brand, usually paying the agency). So the client will not understand why certain elements are not up to scratch - they’ve been sold an incorrect vision of the project. Why can’t they have the 732nd set of changes that have been requested? Why is everything so fraught? Because there isn’t any money. The agency in turn damages their relationship with the client, and the client gets a project which doesn't do what it was supposed to as well as they were expecting.

Everyone loses.

I know this sounds like a massive whinge, which to a degree it is. We know we had a choice, we should have turned down the work. When your upcoming projects are looking scarce, and cash flow is the unstoppable river of hate that it is, those decisions are very hard. But be realistic, if you know the budget is impossible, it’s impossible - no if’s, no buts. No insane budgets at Kettle any more, the lesson has been burned, tattooed and stamped into all of us for ever.

Posted by on 11/11/2013 10:46:34 | with 4 comments



no good deed ever goes unpunished.

10/11/2014 02:29:04


I believe that we as the creative industry need to work as a whole to put together some kind of pricing reference for what a certain kind of work *should* hypothetically cost.

Clients are often ignorant of what they're asking for, and how much they should pay for a given work.

I'm writing a longer post about this to put on Medium, but in short I believe we need something along the lines of what was started at, expanded to cover more areas of creative work.

I believe this would make the creative industry less predatory/cut-throat and more stable for all participants.

23/06/2014 11:46:13


Beers are good, our blog system not so good - I have no idea who you are, therefore beer is tricky....

07/01/2014 08:58:45

I feel your pain

Your not alone. It's an area that is far to common now days. I think the appreciation and understanding for craft has left the building and been replaced with naivety and dreams. Working with an idea is one thing but intangible dreams that agencies chase have a ripple effect that hit's the end supplier with detrimental effect. Next time your in the area we can chat further over a beer ;).

04/12/2013 11:43:53

Leave comment

  1. Submit