How to Tell If You're Getting Exposure -- or Getting Exploited

Last Updated May 13, 2011 4:14 PM EDT

People often present me with opportunities. I'm sure you get them, too. In my case I get invited to speak, to write articles, to do webcasts or videos... it's all very flattering.

Well, flattering until they say: "... and you will receive tremendous exposure from this opportunity!"
Loosely translated, "tremendous exposure" almost always means "donate." That's when exposure is more like exploitation.

Keep in mind I'm not talking about donating time, money, or services to charity. Worthy causes deserve our support. The problem lies with requests from for-profit ventures. In those cases, we often don't get exposure. We let ourselves be exploited.

How can you tell the difference? There are two standards you can apply to any "opportunity":

  • YNK: "You Never Know..." is based on the same logic as playing the lottery; after all, you have to play to win, right? So you provide articles or participate in a video or agree to speak to a group because, well, you never know what might result. The problem is, the result is usually nothing -- just like playing the lottery.
  • WIIFM: "What's In It For Me?" is based on ensuring there's a quid as well as a quo. The tradeoff doesn't have to be equal, of course, but applying the WIIFM standard helps ensure your effort will pay off a tangible way.
If WIIFM sounds selfish, in a way it is -- but in a good way. Using WIIFM as your standard ensures you evaluate exposure as a deliverable with tangible outcomes. Exposure is only beneficial if you reach the audience you want to reach. If you aren't likely to reach your target audience you've strayed into YNK territory, a land where time, money, and resources go to be wasted.

Three examples of how the standard can be applied:

  1. An SPCA shelter asked me to write promotional literature. Pay? No. Exposure? No. But, a worthy cause, one I believe in, so WIIFM? I felt good about helping. (Never overlook emotional benefits.)
  2. A writer's group asked me to speak at a conference. No pay, but, "It will be great exposure," they enthused. Not really: Aspiring writers aren't my target audience since aspiring writers aren't likely to hire a ghostwriter. Still, maybe someone would decide to hire me? YNK... well, actually I do know. WIIFM? It sounded like fun and fit my schedule so I participated. (Hey, they asked nicely....)
  3. A national industry organization asked me to speak on productivity improvement. Pay was reasonable, exposure was great: CEOs, VCs, movers and shakers -- my target audience. The opportunity to get in front of that group was great exposure and resulted in a couple of book gigs as well as two consulting jobs. WIIFM? A lot.
Apply the WIIFM standard to the opportunities you receive. After all, would you ever use YNK as a basis or justifying advertising expense? Only if you had time and money to burn. In advertising, the only standard you apply is WIIFM: Exposure to your target audience and to potential customers.

Always evaluate "opportunities" to gain exposure using the same standard, even if at first it feels selfish. Where your time and resources are concerned, you should be selfish.

Otherwise, exposure is exploitation.

Read More:

Photo courtesy flickr user TheGiantVermin, CC 2.0
  • Jeff Haden On Twitter»

    >> View all articles

    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.