Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting the Boot

I thought I'd been fired, but it turned out to be an escape

Late on a recent Friday afternoon I was left a VOICE MESSAGE telling me I was being replaced. Nice. The new editor of a publication I designed freelance for 10 years couldn't extend the courtesy to tell me directly, and instead had her boss leave the news on my voice mail.

The event spurred discussions with people & colleagues in my inner circle, and I learned it's not unusual nowadays to dismiss people via voice mail or e-mail. I'm not sure if it's due to cowardice, lack of respect, laziness or indifference. But whatever it is, it's symptomatic of cultural malaise.

A week and a half went by when I received a call from one of my printers, telling me the former client had called and asked for downloads of my files. When the printer informed the client that it was illegal to accommodate them, the client emailed me, instructing me to give my permission to the printer to release the files!

As most people in the creative industry are aware, when a freelance designer, photographer, illustrator or other creator of original content, is hired, unless it is specifically stated that the arrangement is for a buyout, copyright ownership is retained by the respective creators. The client is buying the "deliverable"—be it a finished brochure, annual report or other collateral—not the objects themselves.

So, I was let go, and they hired a replacement who was unable to move forward without my files.

A volley of emails ensued. The client insinuated I was trying to strong-arm them for more money because at one point I tried to explain the value of the files and left the door open for her to call me (which she elected not to do). She failed to recognize: If they had been respectful; if they had asked me instead of told me; and if they had not gone behind my back, I would have given them the files to them as a gesture of goodwill.

But lack of professional consideration left me no choice. I let them know their designer needed to proceed on her own. The client then had a "virtual" tantrum, but as far as I was concerned, it was a dead issue.

The next day, out of the blue, I received an email from another person from that office who acted as though everything was rosy, and asked in a friendly way if I was willing to give them the files, or possibly discuss a buyout? She was seemingly unaware of what had transpired between her boss and me, but the ironic thing was, she was the person who originally approached the printer! It was the theatre of the absurd. I explained to her the plan to have their new designer move forward on her own. End of story.

But not quite.

A few days later I received the following handwritten note in the mail:

"Dear Terri,

Thank you for your extraordinary contributions to XXXX with your work on XXXX over the years. You've always impressed us with your creativity and dedication. We are certain it won't be long before another [client] snaps you up! We hope our paths cross again in the future.

Please stay in touch. Thanks again.

[signed] XXXX and the communications team"

The reason for the note is a mystery. After the unethical actions and insulting missives, to suddenly receive such a complimentary note made no sense at all. It was a disingenuous attempt at...what?

When I first learned I'd no longer be working on this project, I felt sad about the loss. Now, realising what a goofed up group of new people are in place, I can only be thankful I'm not sucked into their quagmire.

Since that fateful Friday I've picked up several new clients—all wonderful people who are professional and know what they're doing. So the stars are shining upon me, it seems!

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