Best Practices For Managing Freelance Talent

Five Tips For Agencies Working With Non-Staffers on Projects

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A succession of economic downturns, long-term marketer budget cuts and a new generation with a different workstyle has ushered in a heyday for freelancers at ad agencies. Agency fulltime staffs are smaller than ever. To meet client's growing digital asset and branded-content needs, agencies today are awash in freelancer writers, designers, production and post-production talent.

While there are advantages to using freelancers to get fresh ideas and lower overhead, there are also unique challenges in managing a group of people without a long-term commitment to the agency brand. What's a shop to do? Following these rules can help.

Take ownership of work done for the agency
It's commonly known that creative done under a "work for hire" model belongs to the one who's doing the hiring, in this case the agency or the brand. However, many creatives are social-media masters looking for their next gig. Sometimes that means they get ahead of the campaign by hyping the awesome work they've done on behalf of a brand.

"One of the most common issues working with freelancers today is that they like to post their work on their websites and other social-media vehicles to promote themselves, but often that work has yet to run or is not allowed to be posted by the client," said Mark O'Brien, president of DDB North America.

Make sure to spell out in writing exactly where, when and how freelancers can use the work as part of their portfolio.

Make them a part of the team
Having freelancers work in the office with the team is ideal for tapping in-house knowledge, but not always possible. That means clear and frequent communication is essential. While freelancers who are former employees or regulars may need less hand-holding, don't ignore requests or leave them unattended.

Then when the project is done, say a firm good-bye
"Ensure that you have a mechanism in place to have them leave when their assignment is done. Sometimes people forget that they are freelancing and start looking at [freelancers] like employees," Mr. O'Brien said.

Work with marketers to allot appropriate budget to allow for freelancers
It's a freelance world. Freelancers today make up one-fourth of an average company's workforce and about one-third of all workers in the U.S., according to a study last year by Edelman Berland for the Freelancers Union. But before you start patting yourself on the back for cutting staff and overhead, remember that freelancers aren't actually free.

New York TBWA/Chiat/Day CEO Rob Schwartz has this suggestion. "Let's all go to our clients and tell them we need a separate line item for freelance budgets. Everyone, agency and clients, need to understand that we live in a 'freelance creative manufacturing' world. It's reality. And we need the funding," he said.

Remember that not all freelancers are created equal
Interview and analyze the role and value of a freelancer as thoroughly as a staff hire. Recruit their talent, but be mindful of their motivations. Mr. Schwartz pointed out, "Some are very transactional. Others care as much as you do."

Just like internal staff, some people are simply looking for a paycheck, while others are committed to doing their best work. For freelancers, some are in the game not only because they love it and are energized by the work, but also to score future jobs.

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