Over the course of 2016, I had the opportunity to meet with people from every corner of the creative industries. From chief marketing officers to top agency creative directors, production company producers to animation studio owners and hundreds of freelancers from all over the world. This has given me a unique perspective on the opportunities, challenges and changes the industry is facing over the coming year.
While many people will be making predictions about the latest camera technology, branded content, live video and the rise of VR; it all boils down to the fact that this output is linked to the way people are working together.
We have decided to jump on the bandwagon of predictions, and have projected what we believe will shape our industry in 2017. I looked at the industry fragmentation in my last piece, and here I will look at the general trends that will be affecting the way we all work together this year.
Transparency and bid-rigging
One of the big stories at the end of 2016 was to do with bid-rigging by some of the big agencies in New York. In an ongoing investigation by the US Department of Justice, a number of agencies, including WPP and Publicis Group networks, have been accused of ensuring that their own in-house production teams won tenders by misleading independent production companies in order to overbid on work. Allegations are that it’s been going on for years, but this most recent investigation has certainly ruffled a few feathers and has opened clients’ eyes to the practice.
What are the potential knock on effects of this apparent bid-rigging?
At least for a time, agencies will be making a show of being more transparent and independent production companies will stand a better chance of winning work legitimately. The growth of agency in-house production units will probably see a slowing down in the first half of next year followed by an increase after weathering the storm.
- Clients will pay more attention to the bidding process and be more involved in selecting the best independent production companies, especially for the higher value projects.
- Clients will scrutinise budgets in more detail and will work with third party consultants to validate expenditure.
- There will be an increase in transparency across all parties with the aim to produce the best possible work for each project.
We will soon all be freelance
Like it or not, the general macro trend is towards a freelance global workforce. Fewer and fewer agencies and production companies are working on retainers and are increasingly operating on a project-by-project basis. Gartner predicts that 50% of the US workforce will be freelance by 2020 while the most profitable agency group, WPP, already have over 12% of its teams working freelance. Some agency groups are predicting that by 2020 as many as 80% of their workforce will operate on a freelance basis. Considering that some of these agency groups currently employ over 100,000 people worldwide, the transition is going to be seismic.
So why is this happening?
• Reduction in retained clients.
• Increased competition from smaller agencies offering better value for money.
• Distribution of traditional TV budgets now across a multitude of channels.
• Cost savings related to full-time workforce overheads vs freelance workforce.
• More pressure from procurement departments to extract value for money.
• An increase in transparency meaning smaller margins made and no surplus to support large teams.
• Easier access to a vast freelance global workforce. If correctly managed, this alternative offers an increase in variety quality, speed and efficiency without the cost.
• More SMEs wanting quality content and managing freelancers to obtain it.
What does this mean?
While freelancing is not new to the production world, for agencies it’s a big change and one that will be painful to adapt to. The last couple of years have been tough for agencies as they’ve already been slow to adapt. While it’s not all going to be happening in 2017, the first to make these changes are most likely to finish the year on top. With this restructuring is going to come opportunity. We’ve already started to see it but a lot of top creative directors are going to be jumping ship and setting up their boutique agencies.
Tapping into the global workforce
Freelancers tended to be pulled in when a company was at capacity or needed a specialist skill set. Usually, freelancers would work in the same office but this is changing with the opportunity for remote collaboration. Although remote work tends to better suit roles such as illustrators, animators, copywriters and editors, we are also seeing a trend for agencies and even production companies to hire local crews on the ground. Not only does this leverage local knowledge but also saves time and money on travel.
If you want to look at what is happening next in the production world it’s always worth checking out what’s going on in Australia and New Zealand. Due to their isolated geography and time zones, they are often the first to find new ways of working. With cloud-based software and increasingly cloud-based rendering you can now pretty much work with anyone, anywhere in the world, providing they have a half-decent internet connection.
By working remotely, you are no longer limited to the options located within easy reach of your offices. A lot of agencies have been outsourcing production to Eastern Europe for years but creative hubs like Barcelona, Sao Paulo, Lisbon, Buenos Aires and Santiago have seen a big increase in their output. Although Spanish and Portuguese speaking, many of these people speak English as their second language and are used to working with international clients.
These are some challenges around remotely working including time zones and accountability but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. From experience, it’s often easier to agree on deliverables based on a project fee rather than day rate for work.
Trust: The new world currency
Companies like Airbnb and Uber have brought trust to the forefront when making decisions. Alien concepts such as staying in a stranger’s spare room or jumping in the back of their car have become pretty standard parts of everyday life. The creative world might be a little bit different but it won’t be for long. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people say “I only work with people that I know”. Why is this? Simply put, it comes down to trust.
If you can build trust between a buyer and provider of a service, you are far more likely to create an exchange. Online networks are a great way to build social proof and to bridge the trust gap between buyers and providers. To really get ahead in the online world you need to put yourself out there as if you were in the real world. The key is to approach it as if you were actually meeting people face to face and give them an impression as to who you are as a person, as well as the work that you create.
Alex Vero is co-founder of Movidiam. Movidiam is a professional global network, marketplace and project management platform for the creative industries.