How brands and agencies can produce consistently great work in a freelance world.
By Kristie Brown, published on December 21, 2022 on Adage.com
Agencies and brands realize that full-time employees, and especially the creative ones, probably aren’t working just for them. Whether it’s for friends, non-profits or even to build an independent business of their own, most people in the industry do side gigs.
Creative people need to express themselves in different media, build their skill sets outside their core capabilities, and earn a little extra cash too. It’s also no secret that many agencies use a rotating bench of freelancers. Even the largest never have all the people and capabilities they need in-house.
After years in which agencies favored open offices that meant to facilitate collaboration, the pandemic taught everyone that they could work just fine from home. That’s led plenty of creatives to ditch the employee model in favor of one where they get to set the rules.
This has been both a blessing and a curse—freelancers frequently have the experience a job needs while clients have the right to creative continuity. If they’ve hired an agency for its portfolio, they should not get whatever set of teams it can throw together at a given moment. They paid for a certain level of quality, and they should get it.
To make this happen, agencies and brands need to fix the freelance models of the past. They can no longer hire independent workers from temp agencies for specific roles and discard them when they are no longer needed. They need to realize that what a modern team looks like—a hybrid, dispersed group of talented individuals working together but often remotely. They need to build durable connections with talent both in and outside of their offices. Here’s how they can get it right:
Have a strong core
To ensure continuity, you still need full-time employees in key roles. This team does not have to be large, but it should contain the account leads who are going to interface with the brand daily, the key creative people who will be the ultimate overseers the project and a technology lead as well. Make this core team available to your clients; they should be the face of the effort.
Work with the same vendors
Limit the size of your freelance pool to the extent possible. Build reliable relationships with freelancers who have the skills and experience to support you in a broad range of activities. Not every agency, for example, has a great video capability. So, find a production team that is a good match for you and use them consistently.
Think permalancer, not freelancer
While freelancers don’t want full-time jobs, they appreciate consistent levels of work. It’s best to give them retainers for 10 hours a week or 30 hours a month, rather than hire them on a project basis. Buy their time, manage it correctly and use it efficiently. The more they know that they’re going to work with you, the more they’re likely to be around the next time you need them.
Give them credit
Agencies have long obscured the role of freelancers in their work. This has always seemed to me a small-minded practice. When it comes to giving credit, even with awards, make sure that everyone who works on a project is equally recognized. This is basic fairness, but it also increases the loyalty of your temporary workforce.
Agencies have also been reluctant to recommend their freelancers to others. The logic is that you can keep that talent to yourself (and maybe keep prices low). You’re not doing them or yourself any favors this way. Just like creatives in your own agency, freelancers benefit from a wide range of experiences and opportunities. The more they develop, the more valuable they will be to you.
While every agency relies on freelancers, they rarely put much thought or investment into them. But with so many great people opting to work in the gig economy, brands and agencies need to embrace this reality with forethought and strategy. Merely because someone is giving you 10% of their time doesn’t mean that you should treat them as 10% of an employee.
Instead, build close relationships with your talented freelancers, use them consistently and treat them fairly. It’s always much better to have a deep bench of available talent than a rotating cast of unfamiliar faces.