Agency Brief: Creative Humans founder explains how her platform is drumming up work and jobs during the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has cost the industry tens of thousands of jobs as businesses, agencies especially, have resorted to furloughs and layoffs to stay afloat. As Ad Age earlier reported, employment in advertising, public relations and related services lost 36,400 jobs in April alone.
That's why Darlene Liebman, an ex-Viacom producer, thinks her Creative Humans platform, which she has been quietly building up for about two years, could be a nice assist for creatives looking for work right now. Essentially, Creative Humans is a pool of creative talent and an online hiring platform that directly connects commercial video makers to brands in need of content, cutting out the middleman and reducing cost. What Liebman does is vet the creatives on the platform—only 200 are currently on the site—and only those who have experience developing quality branded content are approved to create a profile and start syncing up with marketers. Liebman chooses the top five creatives she thinks would be the best fit for a brief that comes in and will facilitate negotiations between the creators and client. Brands can also peruse the site and find their own creatives best suited for the brief at hand if they prefer.
“Some people focus on stop motion, work with auto, food and drink,” Liebman says. “The idea is to have really good people in every category. Some work with smaller budgets, some with bigger budgets. We play matchmaker.”
Liebman says she developed Creative Humans because she saw a need for a platform where brands could find top editors, filmmakers, graphic designers or directors to create videos that they may not want to go through an agency for—she says existing platforms for these needs accept too many creatives with little to no experience just trying to promote their portfolios.
“I reject people all the time,” she notes. “Sometimes they don’t have brand experience and they’re wonderful and talented but the idea for Creative Humans is to fill it with people who don’t need hand-holding. I want high-quality creatives.”
Liebman says she will probably cap her site at around 300 creatives so it doesn’t get too overwhelming—meaning there are about 100 slots left. She says that since the start of the pandemic, “we’ve definitely had a lot of people applying; a lot of outreach from producers and creatives looking for work.” Right now, she’s currently looking for filmmakers who can develop “a good corporate video,” as we all know those usually turn out rigid and awkward.
Film budgets on the site range between about $30,000 and $300,000, and Liebman takes a 15 percent cut—so if a client has a $100,000 budget, the creative would get $85,000, which she says she is “really clear and honest about” upfront. She says she feels “optimistic that we’re going to be well positioned” through the pandemic as marketers look for lower-budget content with a quick turnaround. Liebman notes that agencies, including McCann Health, have used the site to find creatives for specific projects. She says Tiffany & Co., Nickelodeon and the U.S. Air Force have also tapped into the Creative Humans network. Check it out here.
A global fight for fair compensation
The pandemic, in some cases, has caused heightened tension between marketers and their agency partners as clients increasingly delay payments to their shops and other vendors. “Everyone is slowing down payments,” Nancy Hill, founder of Media Sherpas, said in an earlier interview on this topic. “If they are on a 45-day payment term, they want 60, if 60, they want 90 and so forth.”
Well, there’s a new global body fighting on behalf of agencies to ensure they are compensated fairly: VoxComm. Comprised of industry leaders including 4A’s CEO Marla Kaplowitz, the group is taking a “stand for better ways to procure and compensate the kind of added value, talent-based services agencies offer, and we will work with agencies and clients to deliver these.” VoxComm says it will “promote good practice, but speak out where we see bad practice.” The group notes that since the pandemic, companies that claim to be “corporately responsible” are at “odds” with their mantras by “using the crisis to delay paying their agencies.” VoxComm claims agencies are being asked to “act as banks” to their clients. The group—comprised of the 4A’s in the U.S., the Brazilian Association of Advertising Agencies, the Commercial Communications Council in New Zealand, the European Association of Communication Agencies and the Institute of Communication Agencies in Canada, among others—will be working with their member clients to “seek agreement on payment terms that support a positive and mutually beneficial relationship.”
“These companies bully agencies into longer payment terms or just flagrantly flout contractual payment terms,” VoxComm writes in an open industry letter. “The unintended consequences mean agencies in turn struggle to meet payroll, often 75 percent of their costs.”
‘Work from Wherever’
Bottle Rocket, Ogilvy’s digital transformation specialty agency based in Dallas, told staff this week that it will be implementing a permanent “Work from Wherever” model. What that means is, where employees choose to work is entirely up to them—they can work from home, in the office or even abroad, Bottle Rocket says.
The pandemic has caused various companies, including ad agencies, to rethink their business models and Bottle Rocket is just one shop considering making remote work more permanent. (This matter will be discussed further in Ad Age’s upcoming May 25 State of the Summer issue.) Bottle Rocket explains its reasoning for the move as such: “This new way of working offers a more relevant, contextual, productive and personalized way to work for its employees, demonstrates the company's continued commitment to its clients and further illustrates its progressive and innovative culture and philosophy.” The agency says since transitioning employees to work from home when the pandemic first hit, “the company has been able to continue ‘business as usual.’”
“Due to our unique style of cross-functional collaborative working, we had to quickly and proactively take measures to ensure our employees felt supported and that our clients continued to receive the value that we are known for,” Bottle Rocket Founder and CEO Calvin Carter says. “I am very happy to say that while working remote, the quality of our work and productivity has not suffered, yet our employees' quality of living has increased. Because of the successes we've seen and the 'new normal' we are all adjusting to, Bottle Rocket is now on the forefront of the next shift in collaborative working by ensuring our employees can work from wherever they want.”
Carter adds, “We acknowledge some meetings will require in-person collaboration, so teams will still need to come together from time to time.”
Despite the inability to physically travel anywhere right now, the pandemic has not stopped certain agencies from expanding their footprints. Digital consulting agency CourtAvenue, which was founded in January by former Mirum and Rockfish CEOs Dan Khabie and Kenny Tomlin, this week expanded its North American footprint to include an office in Minneapolis. CourtAvenue has posts in San Diego and Austin, as well, and is looking to open a Denver office next month. Leading the agency’s Minneapolis hub will be Steve Wallace, named VP of strategy and general manager of the location.
Also during the pandemic, Stink Studios expanded its presence to Buenos Aires and San Francisco. Although not physically in an office just yet, the self-proclaimed creative advertising and digital experience company brought on Ivan Faerman in Buenos Aires as head of delivery. Faerman was most recently an executive producer and strategist at digital product studio Dift Collective and spent four years at R/GA Buenos Aires before that. In his role at Stink Studios, he will primarily help facilitate productions across all offices in Los Angeles, New York and now San Francisco and Buenos Aires. Stink Studios CEO Mark Pytlik says each new office “exists for slightly different reasons.” The San Francisco hub was set up to be closer to Silicon Valley clients while the Buenos Aries outpost was established to foster a “more strategic workforce,” according to Pytlik.
“This expansion was all part of the plan for this year,” Pytlik says. “We definitely had a moment of pause when the pandemic started but decided to move forward. We have to be on the best foot [when we emerge].”
Other fish in the sea
Bumble Bee Seafood selected The Many as its new lead integrated agency of record spanning creative, strategy and media, taking those duties from incumbent VMLY&R. The company says it chose the independent shop “for its history assembling an array of integrated capabilities to strategically identify the growth and creative potential of modern brands, and for its ability to adapt quickly and react in profound ways as an agency founded on the heels of the last recession.”
The Many says it will be responsible for reintroducing the Bumble Bee brand to “a new generation of seafood lovers looking for healthy, affordable and sustainable food options.” Under its remit, the agency will be responsible for a new strategic brand platform, creative campaign, modern digital infrastructure and media buying and planning. Bumble Bee earlier this year entered into a joint venture partnership with plant-based seafood brand Good Catch to start offering vegan-friendly food options.
“Bumble Bee has much to offer the modern world, with an appetite to push creative boundaries. We are up for that challenge,” says Todd Lombardo, managing director of The Many.
There’s strength in indies
While many agencies have recently furloughed and laid off staff, as previously mentioned, there are several independent shops claiming they’ve been able to avoid taking such actions and say they are actually faring better than some of their holding company-owned counterparts through this pandemic. Take Seattle-based, 50-person agency DNA, for example. While DNA was recently able to secure a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan—a nice assist in helping the agency pay its employees—CEO Alan Brown says, regardless of whether his shop got the small business funds, he and Founder-Chairman Dan Gross made the decision to “basically not make a profit this year” to protect its people. That’s one action a holding company-owned agency wouldn’t be able to make, having shareholders and a parent to answer to.
Sebastian Eldridge, CEO and co-founder of Anchor Worldwide, an independent New York-based creative agency, says his shop has been able to avoid furloughs and layoffs and is now hiring. The agency most recently onboarded two new social insights strategists: Rohan Patrick and Patrick Keefe. Both will work on Anchor Worldwide’s BMW and Spotify accounts. Eldridge says the advantage to being a “small independent like us” is “we’re able to pivot and act nimbly.”
“Steps we have taken to ensure we don’t lay off staff is a combination of smart financial decisions and a push for organic growth in our existing client base,” Eldridge says. “[We've been] filling in gaps for our clients by tapping into services that we offer, but some clients haven’t taken us up on that until now, seeing that new agency outreach/pitches have all but evaporated.”
Of course, small indies, whose revenue is dependent on fewer clients than the giants, are not immune to the effects of COVID-19. We saw that play out when TBD, the San Francisco independent agency led by CEO Jordan Warren and Chief Creative Officer Rafael Rizuto, was forced to close its doors due to the pandemic. Warren told Ad Age at the time that the coronavirus pandemic had “pushed out or canceled” most of the projects the agency had in the works and ultimately caused its collapse.
Quigley-Simpson, another agency that says it’s been fortunate to be able to hire during the pandemic, added Scott Marsden as executive VP of media and analytics; Lothar Boensch as senior VP of business strategy and growth; and Stephen Blumberg as its first general manager of New York. Marsden hails from Parachute Home, where he was senior VP and head of marketing. Boensch was previously a managing director at WPP in charge of running Blast Radius in the U.S. and Canada. Blumberg was formerly senior VP and group account director for Starcom.
Oberland, a New York “purpose-driven” agency, appointed its first-ever partners: Davianne Harris and Dhruv Nanda. Harris, a J. Walter Thompson (now Wunderman Thompson) veteran who joined Oberland as VP and head of strategy last May, is credited with helping to attract new business and generate strategic programs for marketers like Access Health and Uber. Nanda is a one-time copywriter for Chipotle Mexican Grill who came to Oberland in February 2016. While they are Oberland’s first partners, they won’t be the last. Co-Founder and Executive Creative Director Drew Train says the agency has set aside 15 percent of the company for employee ownership.
Publicis Groupe was chosen as GSK Consumer Healthcare’s new strategic partner in Brazil following a five-month pitch process. The appointment also follows GSK Consumer Healthcare entering into a joint venture with Pfizer Consumer Healthcare last year that resulted in brands including ENO, Sensodyne, Advil, Centrum, Sonrisal, CataflamPro and Caltrate becoming part of the same model. Publicis Groupe will deploy a dedicated unit, PlatformGSK, in Brazil that will include PeopleCloud to service the account. PlatformGSK Brazil will handle all communications in the region for brands Advil, ENO, Corega, Sensodyne and Sonrisal.
Cheil Worldwide hired Mariana Peluffo as its regional creative director of Central America. Peluffo will report to Cheil Central America CEO-President Kyung Keun Choi. She will be responsible for all Samsung communications across the 14 countries within her region. Peluffo hails from Wunderman Panama where she was a creative director.
David Miami, part of WPP, added Jose Sancho as an associate creative director. He joins the Miami office from Lola MullenLowe in Madrid, where he was behind acclaimed work like “The Scary Clown” for Burger King. At David Miami, Sancho will be partnering with Curtis Caja, the associate creative director responsible for the Cannes Grand Prix winner “Burning Stones.” Before Lola MullenLowe, Sancho held positions at Publicis Madrid and Y&R London.
Sid Lee Paris won the creative account of Longines (Swatch Group). The agency will assist in launching the luxury brand’s watches and eyewear products worldwide including in Asia, Europe and North America. Sid Lee Paris will be responsible for developing 360-degree campaigns for Longines. Its scope will include creative, strategy, design, production and social. The agency says campaigns will debut this summer in Europe.