If what Paul Spoerry says is true, allowing for even a little hyperbole,
British contract archaeology is in deep trouble. Private sector
archaeology is a business, and businesses often opt for smaller profit
margins for the opportunity to work on high profile projects. If you run
year after year without a profit, you aren't a business. And you
certainly aren't going to land and optimally exploit high profile
Competition is part of business in a capitalist society. Theoretically,
those firms that can produce the best products at the lowest prices
survive. But competition isn't just a matter of trying to underbid other
firms. It's about building client lists and developing local
constituencies. In archaeology, it's about working the 'rubber chicken'
circuit (giving dinner talks to local organizations), publishing in
local newspapers, publishing in historical and archaeological society
journals, and taking active, leadership roles in those societies. It's
about showing clients innovative ways to use archaeology to promote
their projects. And--and this is where the underqualified fall by the
roadside--it's about showing clients, review agencies, and the public
how even the smallest of projects can yield interesting insights into
Business is far more than waiting for the next brief or request for
proposal to come down the pike, hoping you can outbid other firms.
Seizing opportunities is important, but I think it more important that
we create our own opportunities. My undergraduate mentor told me that
cultural resources management, or contract archaeology, was going to be
a flash in the pan and that I should focus on creating my own niche, my
own market if you will. Well, his prognostication was way off base.
Contract archaeology has become big business in the USA, a far cry from
what it was in the 1970s. But his advice? Given the time and
inclination, I could put an accurate, precise value on it, and I have
done rather well by it. (No Mike, there will be no royalties.) Demanding
increased government control and subsidizing may help a little in the
short run, but as American automobile manufacturers learned in the
1980s, you can't make cars with steering wheels on the left and expect
to sell them to customers who want them on the right.
One other thing in what already as been an all too long posting.
Business people, whether as a personality trait or as a facade, are
positive, can-do kinds of folks. Long faces and grumbling over low pay
scales will do little to establish a rapport with them. I think it is
very important when dealing with clients that I make clear that I am an
ethical professional (a redundant phrase) and I am a businessman who
expects to make his worth. I also make it clear that I am there to help
them comply with the law. Balancing professional and business ethics and
priorities can be tough. But hundreds of thousands of soils scientists,
geologists, physicists, physicians, etc., do it every day of the week.
Annapolis, Maryland USA
[log in to unmask] wrote:
> Just a quick response to James G Gibb's interesting view on this
> subject (depressing state, developer-funding, public arch etc). The
> concept of reducing a quote and thus reducing 'profit margins' because
> the work looks interesting is one that, although i sympathise with,
> lies in the realm of fantasy in my experience. I have spent virtually
> the whole 1990s as a manager of arch projects in England, the majorty
> developer-funded and competitively tendered. In all that time any
> 'margin' that might have existed was used for precisely the sort of
> worthwhile public archaeological work that other contrbutions here
> have indicated support for. In more recet years, as competition bites
> deeper, i find tere are NO MARGINS and certainly nothing that could
> ever be described as a PROFIT. In fact all our competitively tendered
> work is so pared down as to be close to inadequate in my view.
> Certainly the quality of archaeology I knew in the 1980s (and i know
> it was not all good so no comments re: selective memory please!) was
> far higher than that regularly seen now.
> Paul Spoerry