“How can I protect a ‘value proposition’ when interviewing in the advertising industry?”

Question: I have worked in the  entertainment industry as a writer producer and for a variety of reasons I am returning to the advertising world as a consultant or contract employee.

These are two entirely different working cultures. Hollywood, despite its reputation, is quite structured, and advertising (corporate) now seems to be “no rules negotiation.”

I have a meeting scheduled with the president of an advertising agency to discuss a value proposition for my work. In Hollywood, the structure to protect ideas is established. I am feeling very vulnerable presenting ideas to an agency to demonstrate a value proposition.

Any thoughts or insights would be appreciated.

Hanover, New Hampshire

 Answer: Dear Christine, Your question is a very interesting one, because it touches on a most interesting concept: the “Value Proposition.” I believe Hollywood has greater “structure” in its business relations, and hence customary ways of protecting ideas, because of its long-term history of unionization, in which (a) roles are well defined, and (b) sharing of ideas is strictly regulated. Advertising, on the other hand, has had no such customs or “regulation.” Yes, I’d say you are entering a “scarier jungle.”

Here are some thoughts that might help:

a. We all sell “Perception of Value.” I am a big believer that we all sell “perception of value” to each other. That is, “This is what I or my product can do for you, and a better price than others can or will require.” I focus on “perception of value” between employees and employers, but it is a concept at the very heart of our economic system. I am totally convinced that, with sufficient “perception of value,” an employee can get compensation of millions of dollars and all the benefits and other good things they want – but first they must create that “perception of value.”

b. We convey perception of value by a clear “Value Proposition.” How do employees convey that “perception of value?” When being interviewed, by presenting a “Value Proposition,” in effect, “If you hire me, you will get a lot of good, valuable, beneficial work from me, in fact, more than any other candidate will deliver, and at a reasonable salary, too.”

A “Value Proposition” is a clear statement that conveys “perception of value,” or the tangible result a customer gets from your service or product. If I said to you, “Hire me as your negotiator for $1,000, and in return I guarantee you a promotion and raise of at least $5,000,” that would be a clear “Value Proposition.” For you, a “value proposition” to an ad agency would probably be a clear statement of the advantage or revenue your being hired would result in for the agency.

c. Value Propositions Must Relate Directly to Interests. How does the “customer” –  evaluate your “Value Proposition?” By considering how their three most important interests, (1) Revenue, (2) Relations, and (3) Reputation, will be enhanced by using your services, compared to the cost of your services. “I can get you a new Mercedes Benz for $10” is a good example.

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d. Clear, Direct and Simple are Important to Value Propositions. Potential customers and potential employers do not have time to figure out a value proposition that is not clear, direct and simple. “If you hire me, your customers will be happier” is a poor example.
e. The First Challenge you face is to be Clear, but not “Generous” about Critical Details. Christine, you have not presented me with what it is you hope to do if hired by the ad agency. If you have an idea for a new service for an industry segment – say it is a great idea for a campaign of commercials to sell auto insurance that the ad agency can use to gain greater market share of that industry segment – you may want to give them an “appetizer,” not a “main course” of your ideas. Make your “Value Proposition” compelling, and inviting, but not completely “satisfying,” at least not until you are hired.

f. The Second Challenge you face is to Convey a “Risk Proposition” for Stealing Your Ideas, but without Threat. Don’t forget –  people respond to both “risk” and “reward” when deciding to buy a product or service. “If you don’t buy our $10 oil-change service, your car’s engine could have $1,000 of damage.”

Just as a “Value Proposition” is important when selling an idea, so is a “Risk Proposition” when protecting an idea. It conveys the simple message “If you steal this idea, it could cause you a problem.” It’s the business equivalent of saying on the schoolyard “My brother is a professional boxer.” Of course, though, you don’t want to appear threatening, just “careful” with what is valuable to you.

g. While a Value Proposition must be Clear, a “Risk Proposition” must be Subtle. It goes without saying that you’re never going to get hired by starting off an interview with a threat. It’s for this reason that a Risk Proposition cannot be clear and direct, but must be subtle and veiled. Simply putting the copyright symbol, © , next to an expression of an idea does that sort of thing. So does a soft mention of the words “proprietary” and “confidential,” as in “I want you to know that I understand anything we may share in our discussions need to be, and will be, kept entirely confidential.”   

h. Respected business people convey both “Value Propositions” and “Risk Propositions” all day, every day. Don’t fear being known as a smart, sophisticated, aware and careful business person. When sharing “value propositions,” on any materials you share you should include phrases such as “Shared for Interview Purposes Only – Not to be Used or Divulged to Others” or “For Interview Only – Not for Commercial Use.” It also could not hurt to place © 2011 Your Name at the bottom of every page, slide or object you show interviewers. If you are not presenting materials, but rather discussing matters, you might consider – if appropriate – sending an email beforehand acknowledging that you will be candidly sharing ideas and information that, you believe, may be proprietary, and that you hope and expect the interview discussions are just that. Sure, it might scare away the interviewer, but that is a judgment call for you to make. 

As you may know, we offer both informal and formal Non-Disclosure agreements and emails in our “Model Letters” blogsite section. If you are interested [click here].

Hope this helps, you and others in your circumstances. And hope, too, you’ll write back to tell us how things went.

          Best, Al Sklover   

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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