Retail giant Urban Outfitters reportedly had no intention of compensating the young writer and photographer they commissioned to produce marketing material for their new Halifax location’s grand opening. That is until the Halifax arts community called them out on it.
To promote the new Canadian location, Urban Outfitters asked author Hollie Uffindell, 18, and photographer Alexa Cude, 25, of Halifax to take photographs and write about the city for the company's corporate blog and social media accounts. They ended up producing an article the retailer called “our guide” to Halifax.
Although both Uffindell and Cude were aware they weren’t going to be compensated for their work, they did expect to gain a lot of recognition, which is why they decided the opportunity was worth their time. Even though the situation is reminiscent of the unpaid internships that thousands of young people (especially in creative industries) are expected to complete, you have to wonder why a huge company like Urban Outfitters wouldn’t think it appropriate to pay the women for their work. They can certainly afford it.
Cude, who took three days off from her job to take over 400 photographs for Urban Outfitters said she believed the benefits of the opportunity would “outweigh the fact I wasn’t getting paid.” Her photo of Peggy’s Cove at sunset is now one of the most popular on the retailer’s Instagram account with over 114,000 likes, and she ended up gaining several hundred new followers.
We all have to pay our dues, which is why many young people are willing to do work for free as long as they get recognition out of it, but Uffindel says she wishes her name would have been featured more prominently as a contributor.
The CBC also found out that Urban Outfitters has done marketing campaigns for individual cities like this before, and they have paid their writers and photographers in the past. So why not this time? Ann Denny, committee member to the Halifax Arts Coalition and founder of Youth Art Connection, believes UO took advantage of these particular artist’s inexperience and says "it's going to weaken the overall creative economy if the business community isn't valuing artistic output.”
When CBC inquired about UO’s payment policies, they said they have traditionally paid their contributors and will be paying Cude and Uffindell as well. The women maintain that payment beyond reimbursement of expenses was never discussed prior to CBC’s involvement.
Sounds like Urban Outfitters believed it was completely acceptable to pay in “recognition”. The fact is, not many young artists would turn down an opportunity to work with such a large brand, paid or not. It’s all about getting the experience, but it would be nice if that experience also offered a little monetary compensation to help pay the bills.