How Madonna taught me the value of time

Whilst driving to work the other day, the song Hung Up came on the radio and I started to think. Not about pop music or consumerism – or Madonna’s knack for consistently hitting the zeitgeist – but about time. In particular, the value of time.

Madonna toured Australia in 2016 for the first time in 23 years, her reputation for being incredibly late onstage not a secret to her Australian fans. In 2008, she was reportedly fined £135,000 by Wembley Stadium for breaking their 10.30pm curfew by 40 minutes. During her Brisbane show, advertised as beginning at 8.30pm, even some diehard fans gave up the wait – in the rain – when there was still no sign of the Material Girl three hours after the show was scheduled to start. Like at Wembley, Madonna’s tardiness cost more than just the dry clothes and collective frustrations of a few thousand fans. Madonna’s renowned ego had a real economic impact.

The Allphones Arena has a capacity of 21,000 people, and the going rate for a babysitter is approx. $17 per hour. If just one in ten concert goers booked someone to look after their little ones, only to arrive home two and a half hours late, her fans were out of pocket $89,250.

To add to the this, no extra public transport was organised and the last scheduled train left the nearest station just after midnight, not even halfway through her performance. At up to $45 a pop from the CBD to the suburbs via Uber, ticket holders were forced to throw away an awful lot of money just to get home from the arena.

Not to mention the cost of staff overtime – lighting operators, sound engineers, venue staff, security guards, cleaners etc.

Madonna and this scenario leads me to think about what is the true value of time as a professional, and what is the flow on effect of not understanding – and charging – the correct value for your time, especially within creative industries like event management.

Generally, within creative industries (and I will only commentate from an event management perspective), I find that charging for the actual time you spend on the delivery of a project to be incompatible with client expectations, fairly or not, for a number of reasons.

As an aside, a lawyer friend of mine responded to this issue by saying: “why don’t you just give a reasonable estimate and then bill them for the actual time at the end”?… Oh, how we laughed.

Firstly, some clients don’t often understand the time it takes to analyse and decode a brief, nor do they truly comprehend the time and resources it takes to solve the client’s problem. Then designers come in to swiftly export those ideas into a concise and visually aesthetic proposal. Only then can we start the project by engaging specific professionals and suppliers to actually carry out the work.

Secondly, it can be difficult for the team – experienced or not – to actually stand up to a client and explain, purposefully and articulately, the true costs of the project they are hoping to execute. Too many times have I seen an idea fit into a budget, rather than an idea demand an authentic and honest sum of money for delivery.

Thirdly – and I think this might be the most important point – your team may not understand the true cost to the business if projects are not financially structured properly.

In the end, by not charging the true worth of the time it takes for the designers, client managers and producers to actually execute an event, the bottom line of the business that employs them is directly impacted.

I have spoken about the importance of being your true, authentic self within the workplace – this cannot be underestimated. It is one thing for your people to understand their own value and bring that with them when they walk into work each day. It is quite another for them to have the confidence to stand their ground when a client questions production or design hours. However, doing so ensures the operational costs of their organisation are met for the work being carried out. And importantly, the client clearly understands the value of the time being put into the project.

This is why confidence – usually bred from understanding how budgeting effects the bottom line – is so important for your team in a broader sense.

Last year we decided to sit down with our team in one of our monthly meetings where we discuss the vision, the challenges and the successes of the business. In this one particular meeting, one of the executive directors of Pitcher Partners – who also happens to be a cherished client of 15 years – joined us to purposefully explain what happens to the bottom line of the business when a single project isn’t properly financed. More specifically, what can happen across the span of an entire year, where up to 25 projects can have client management or production hours cut. It looks a bit like this train wreck with staff turning to drink and management going WTF:

It wasn’t until sharing with our people, what it takes to open the doors each day that they could clearly see the value of the role they play – thus the importance of being open and honest with clients in a broader sense. Most managers in middle to large enterprises do not share this information freely with their people for fear of loss of power – a fear that eventually comes back to bite them financially.

I believe that honesty is always the best policy when it comes to managing your team and indeed, your clients’ expectations.

Go back to the blog

Latest blogs