The Brain Pick: Marketing Geniuses, Don’t Give It Away For Free!

Ever get those emails asking to “pick your brain” for some ideas? The good-hearted person in you says, “I can do that!”  But favors like that have consequences and costs that may not have occurred to you or the person asking for them.brain_glasses

For a myriad of reasons, search marketing seems to get more than its fair share of “brain pick” requests. I’ve gotten a few of these over the years, and of course, the good Samaritan in me wants to help.

For people I’m very close to, I can hit the highlights with a brain pick to provide some clarity to the occasional situation. Heaven knows I’ve asked for the occasional favor, and I’m happy to give advice when I can.

Where I see issues arising is when the brain pick starts to look like a statement of work — when you are giving someone a “something,” and you aren’t getting a “something” in return.

Brain Pick 1: I Need A Job

Email subject line: I know <insert name of close friend>

Question: Hey, I’m trying to get a job and I need to look smart in front of my new bosses. You’re an expert in search — can you take a look at their program? When I get the job, I’ll totally hire you.

What a royal pain. There are so many things wrong with this that I don’’t know where to begin. Possible questions back include:

  1. Why are you applying for a job you clearly aren’t qualified for?
  2. I called my friend and he doesn’t remember green lighting your request for free work.
  3. Do you think I was born yesterday?

Here’s a more politically correct response that will come about a week after you ignore the first email:

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, we are not engaging in any spec work at this time. If you’d like to structure a consulting engagement that would include a Statement of Work and fee for services for a program audit, I am happy to initiate that process with you.

The deeper issue is that search is an enormous and complicated arena that is misunderstood on an epic scale. I have rarely found one simple solution to any sort of complex issue and there are usually multiple reasons for errors and changes. In other words, identifying a problem is usually the beginning of a dialogue, not the end.

Brain Pick 2: I Need Free Ideas To Help Me Make More Money

Email subject line: <inspirational quote you might find in one of those trite e-card type deals>

Dear <insert name>,

Hey there, I am giving a lecture about <insert search topic> at an upcoming event and you’ve been very generous with your time over the years, can you take some time to send me some ideas on <insert subject matter>?

This one is a favorite, and it happens way too often. Perhaps you could respond with the following:

Why yes, I would be happy to help you. Here’s a list of things you could cover and attached are the last 5 presentations I have given on the subject matter. Please feel free to use the “repurpose” slide function in PowerPoint so you won’t have to deal with my pesky company color scheme and logos. Please let me know if I can help pay your mortgage in the future, because (as you know) I exist to make you money.

The personal nature of the generic obvious <insert given name> format is endearing to no end. There’s a difference between collecting information (and citing your sources to benefit those who brought the ideas to the table) and fishing for other people’s stuff so you can pass it off as your own. More often than not, the latter seems to be the case.

So you’re saying you are speaking on a topic you’re not really sure about? Well, that sounds like fun. Can you pass along the name of the conference organizer so I can ask them how I can do the same? Better yet, there’s a nuclear physics conference in town next week — maybe we can both chat about the long term effects of radiation on sea life.

Of course, you wouldn’t go do a talk on nuclear anything without the proper credentials, right? There could be catastrophic consequences.

Consequences & Costs

The path of least resistance and most common response to either email above would be to ignore them. My inquisitive nature precludes my ability to execute on such behavior, so I responded with requests for more information.

In both of the above instances, when I called said persons out on their requests, the instant resentment I received as a thank you certainly justified my response. In the first instance, I had never actually met the person; as for the second, well… the second is an industry “luminary” that I hadn’t spoken to in well over 5 years.

The reality is that smart go-getters and sociopaths alike have been preying on experts with good intentions for as long as I can remember. People like to feel smart, and being asked an opinion satisfies one or two of Maslow’s needs. Here are 3 reasons why you should choose another path:

  1. Giving advice in the absence of a professional agreement may leave an agency or business exposed from a legal or professional reputation perspective. Can you imagine if physicians conducted diagnosis and treatment with no tests, examinations or analysis?
  2. Every time you do something free that normally carries a fee, a little piece of your business and the industry dies. You devalue the services you and others offer and perpetuate the misconception that search or digital strategy has no value by those who didn’t understand it in the first place.
  3. Offering to do “help” the poor bastard who isn’t qualified with partial information isn’t really helping anyone. Let’s say in the first example I logged in, had a look at his AdWords account and pointed out five things that could be fixed. Said hapless tool marches into his job interview and announces the fixes. When asked why he would make such changes, he begins to sweat, loses consciousness and ends up in the Emergency Room. Now we have yet another unemployed no health care having nudnik taxpayer funded doctor visit. And no one wants that.

You must choose your engagements, favors and various other type requests wisely. You must also think about the ancillary costs so before you dive headlong into the next brain pick, think about the real winners and losers.

(Stock image via Used under license.)

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing Column


About The Author: is CEO of Motivity Marketing. Motivity ‘s focus is helping companies in the world of connected marketing move forward with greater impact and return than they may ever have thought possible. Kevin takes an active role in guiding the day-to-day strategic execution of client initiatives.

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  • Pat Grady

    Sometimes I tell them, too late, it’s been picked clean. Haha! Happens to me often, several times a week. I help where I can – I hope someday, when I need help (it’s inevitable, but distant, I hope), I’ll have a folks to lean on. I’ve deepened a lot of relationships by allowing my brain to be picked, and relationships are the foundation of any business – so I also look at it as an investment, one with a long term horizon.


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