Thursday, October 23, 2014

Confessions of a Mercenary

I spent the majority of my career in advertising as a staff guy. Or as I often say, a chump.

When I was on the company payroll, I never cared for those carefree freelancers who would arrive at the last minute after all the legwork had been done and 16 rounds of work had been killed.

And it didn't help that they'd stroll into the office with their come-in-at-11 attitude. Or their I'm-shoving-out-at-4-and-there's-nothing-you-can-do-about-it end of day demeanor.

Who were these "happy" creatives and what business did they have with our business? I often thought.

You can chalk it up to being young, insecure and overly ambitious, but we staffers also regarded the hiring of freelancers as a not-so-subtle signal from upper management. They had lost confidence in our ability to come up with a creative solve and needed the high-priced professional gunslingers to come in and clean up our mess.

Or so, we thought.

But now I'm 44 and have been playing for the other team for more than 10 years. I have a whole other perspective on the matter. In fact, and I say this with no self-serving agenda whatsoever, I believe freelancers will be the ones who save our industry.

Here's why.

Freelancers are cheaper than staffers. They can telecommute. They require no real estate footprint. They demand no benefits. Think how much money is wasted on the false camaraderie of employee picnics, birthday cakes, and Secret Santas. This country would be back in the black if businesses, large and small, didn't have to reach into their pocket and shell out billions of dollars for supermarket cupcakes and bi-annual employee dental cleanings.

They're also cheaper because you only pay them when there is work to be done. These days that work can be sporadic. Clients are moving away from the AOR model and doing more project work. And that project work is often doled out as a "jump ball." Pitting one holding company agency against a sister agency.

It goes without saying if you find yourself in a jump ball situation, you want to deploy the "tallest, most athletic" creative team money can buy. Tall and athletic being a metaphor for bald and stocky, of course.

Also, freelancers are easier. There's no drama. No trauma. And no "Why do I always get the shitty assignments? Why don't you give this pharma project to Bill and Kathy, they're the ones that dropped the meat in the dirt on that new business pitch?"

Freelancers are happy to work on any project. From a mammoth Super Bowl spot to the continued evolution of the Crestor guy.

"The client wants Crestor Guy to be more three dimensional. With a more urgent call to action. Maybe even have him do some live tweeting." 

"Pffft, no problem," said the eager freelancer.

And finally there's this. Freelancers are more efficient.

You hand the brief to a freelance team, hold a gun up to their head and say you need to see something in a day and 24 hours later that freelance team will have a packet or a pdf of fresh new ideas. That's just the way it works.

Wham, bam, thank you Omnicom.

Then, on Friday afternoon, when the account team comes back from the presentation and announces all the work has died, the freelancers will be right there to pick up the slack. Ready to fire up the meter, work the weekend and charge double overtime. There's no pouting. Or grousing. Or venting via the comment section on AgencySpy.

Because to a freelancer there's only one phrase sweeter than "the strategy has changed."

"The check has cleared."


George Tannenbaum said...

Rich, as a soon to be 47-year-old, I am new to the freelance game.

I like the money.

I don't like the rootlessness. Or maybe I'm just not yet used to it.

But I know whereof you speak.

Every client banality earns me money.

You kill.

I bill.

Anonymous said...

Some good thinking here. The agency model also seems to be in disarray. Just like very few agencies are going to pay your day rate for an entire month and maybe give you work, maybe not, many clients are wondering why they are paying a retainer. The freelance model makes more sense in the fragmented economy. Only complaint I have is the work comes in bursts rather than in a steady stream. You want to have the phone ring off the hook? Book a vacation.