“Look mom, they gave me money for drawing!”

Like pro athletes, advertising creatives are notoriously bad when it comes to figuring out money, especially when it comes to their employment contracts. Unlike pro athletes, however, we don’t have agents and managers to help us along. Honestly, most creative people never even took a math course in college -if they went to college. Or, like me, they took “dummy math” with the athletes!

In addition, I doubt any so-called ad schools cover the nuts and bolts of employment agreements in their curriculum. Maybe they should. With most ad jobs existing in holding companies these things can get pretty complicated. (They have to in order to be lucrative.) Unfortunately, the typical ad practice isn’t going to provide enlightenment. Why should they? It might cost them money. Frankly, nothing pleases agency bean counters more than an incoming creative who states: “I just want to do good work.”

Given the economy and tough times in Adland, I’m assuming the average creative hire is, indeed, just happy to be there. Don’t get me wrong. Gratitude is a desirable virtue but not when it impedes your ability to garner the best contract possible. With that in mind here are a few tips.

The first thing one needs to be aware of is that salary is just one aspect of your potential contract. Granted, it’s an important aspect but it ain’t what made the fat cats fat. True wealth comes from equity. And while most companies aren’t offering stock or options (particularly to newbies) that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Ask. Then ask again. If you’re a hot commodity or have other offers you just might score. If you’ve been at a firm some time and are successful then continue to pursue equity. Ask what will it take for you to get equity? Fact: Stock beats a raise in almost every equation. It’s amazing how many creative people (even the great ones) never think about this stuff until late in their careers, if ever. Equally amazing is the star creative who only focuses on salary. It’s a ghetto move. There’s a reason companies are reluctant to give out stock. Cash is far cheaper.

Somewhat easier to negotiate are incentives. Or bonus agreements. Here you’re asking the company to pay only if you achieve certain targets. Said another way, you’re betting on yourself. For example, you could base incentives on awards won or new business. Frame it as a win/win, which it is.

Easiest of all to procure are various perks, like parking, transportation allowances, education stipends, extra vacation days, etc… If you phrase your interrogative properly a prospective employer shouldn’t blanch. Things like Second City (presentation skills) and Hyper Island (digital training) are invaluable and worth every penny. Ask your company to pay those pennies.

Yet, most kids starting out (especially now) are, indeed, just happy to be there. But if you’ve been “there” several years, and are successful, maybe it’s time to ask what’s behind door number two.

Part of the dilemma is deep down we creatives consider contracts and money a “hassle.” Worrying about that stuff gets in the way of “doing good work.” We think, “just pay me a good wage and get out of my way.” With this attitude we are screwing ourselves. And what’s more most of us don’t even know what we’re missing!