A new collective model shining a light on creative talent

May 2020

For anyone in the advertising industry looking to inject new talent into their business, now is the time; a buyer’s market for hiring managers to take their pick from a wealth of creative, highly skilled people.

But it’s also a flooded market, with hiring freezes commonplace and numbers being shed, as marketing budgets have withered away across all sectors.

Talent might be the backbone of every business, but with large headcounts no longer sustainable, the relationship between companies and people has irreversibly changed, nearly as much as those between agencies and clients.

How might this be seen in parallel with a shift towards a new collective model, and a change in how people want to work? How can we use this time to acknowledge that the old ways are obsolete and that a collective model is more suited to this new, lean environment, and allows for a greater spotlight on talent?

Companies looking to become more agile and efficient have been changing the way they hire and deal with talent for some time now.

Elliot Maher

Change has been a long time coming, and now it’s here

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way companies and their teams work, with years of forecasted digital transformation being pushed through in the past few months.

But companies looking to become more agile and efficient have been changing the way they hire and deal with talent for some time now. The World Economic Forum predicted that, by 2022, up to two thirds of companies would turn to external contractors, temporary staff and freelancers to address their skills gaps.

Advertising Association President and former Unilever CMO Keith Weed has even recognised the potential of a new flexible and talent-led business model, investing in customer experience platform Limitless. And PwC is leading the way in developing its own platform to more efficiently fill skills gaps with freelancers, and freelance networks have become profitable for all parties. Forbes has even dubbed it a ‘freelance revolution’.

The traditional notion of a freelancer has been as a detached stopgap, but without a centralised brief and a thriving communication flow, opportunities and potential are lost. This revolution, and the new collective business models springing from it, galvanises their identity and value, elevating their impact as a specialist partner.

Replacing a cracked agency model

Change in the advertising world has been coming for a long time. Tensions between agencies and clients have become more strained than ever, for many reasons. The tendency for individual agencies to favour complementary offerings from within their umbrella group has been met with an erosion of trust from clients. In the new digital era of hyper-measurement, trust is diluted further as answers to questions from a better-informed client are not always forthcoming.

Confidence and trust in agencies is also being worn away by the increasing power of GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) and their ability to hire experts who can service clients more deeply and continue the cycle of exposing agency flaws.

Having access to a pool of talent that is motivated and in tune with client needs to generate the best results is also another factor challenging the viability of the agency model. As a consequence of greater transparency on media rates, the squeezing of agency margins and questionable rebate deals, agency bottom lines have been stretched. This manifests in fewer people doing more work, less attention to client needs, quashing team morale and leading to agency staff turnover rates of around 30%. 

If clients experience their account teams constantly leaving, and with it the endemic knowledge of their work, then performance is negatively impacted, and trust continues to dwindle. Agencies have built teams of people that cater for demand in a point of time, but what happens when the skills needed evolve and the demands change? 

To sum up, it’s a perfect storm, and the status quo is no longer fit for purpose. In the words of the agency pioneer himself, Sir Martin Sorrell, "the six traditional holding companies, one I helped build over 33 years, are two things: fragmented and siloed".

A collective model may be the antidote not just for all that is broken within the agency sector, but for individuals who have been thrust into this new world of work.

Elliot Maher

Paving the way for the collective model

These issues have all opened the door for a leaner, more flexible, cost effective and transparent way of delivering creative and digital work, whetting the appetite for a new collective model, and building opportunities for talent within that.

Rather than feeling frustrated and forgotten, executives displaced by the pandemic’s impact on the industry should embrace this as a chance to carve out a new, non-linear career, fuelled by the work, not agency hierarchies and bureaucracy.

This is why we believe we are now in the era of the collective model, where a client can be matched with the right professionals who understand their business and can deliver their requirements, every time, faster and more cost effectively than a traditional agency.

Via a collective model, marketers can harness talented individuals as specialist partners within a collaborative community rather than nomadic freelancers. We believe there is still a need for an agency partner, just one that has adapted.

The lockdown has taken away freedoms and luxuries but has also given many people time to reflect and reconnect, on their careers and positions in a changing industry, and their relationships with work, their clients and their peers. A collective model may be the antidote not just for all that is broken within the agency sector, but for individuals who have been thrust into this new world of work, who can reclaim their creativity, and do their best work once again.