Rachel Barek and Brian Skahan are the latest duo to leave the holding company world behind to start their own venture.
The former AKQA managing directors announced the launch of Said Differently on Thursday, a new agency reinventing the model with senior talent and flexible, distributed teams curated to solve specific client problems.
Clients work with a seasoned principal with specific expertise on the client or business to manage the account full time. That principal then curates a team from a global network of talent with the exact skill sets needed to solve the business problem at hand.
If a client comes back to Said Differently with another kind of problem, the principal on the account would curate an entirely new team to solve it.
While both Barek and Skahan had been doing this type of “casting” work at their holding company jobs in the past, they faced barriers in the business model, which is built around employing about 80% of staff full time and limited to a pool of talent already working at the agency. AKQA is part of WPP.
Said Differently flips that model on its head, with about 20% full-time, senior staff and 80% flexible talent that can jump on different projects as needed. So far, Said Differently has a network of 3,000 freelancers across the globe.
“Clients don't necessarily want the same people every time,” Skahan said. “They want the best people for that job. In a large agency, it's hard to transition from a P&L and real estate model to what clients are asking for: solve my problem right now with the best team to do it.”
Said Differently, which has been growing in stealth mode over the past year, has found no shortage of great talent looking for work as the sector was decimated by layoffs and furloughs during the pandemic. The agency is also attractive to seasoned creative talent and working parents looking to leave behind the agency grind for part-time, flexible work.
“We're getting access to talent that agencies can't get because of our willingness to work this way,” Barek said.
The model is not just attractive for talent, but also for clients leaning into distributed talent. It’s also more efficient and can price projects however a client wants, whether that’s an FTE or fixed pricing for a project, as clients move away from the agency of record model.
“We don't have big, fancy offices or FTEs sitting on the bench,” Barek said. “We're not bloated. We bring in the exact specialty team you need to do the work. The client then has options and isn’t locked into a decision three years out.”
So far, Said Differently’s clientele is split evenly among nonprofits, tech startups and Fortune 500 brands. The group recently worked with Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider, founder of the nonprofit End Well, to recreate a brand identity and platform to run its annual global conference virtually during the pandemic.
“We brought in a different set of people to execute that at each standpoint, from UX, to web design to implementation and build, with us as principals stitching those teams together,” Barek said.
Said Differently, however, is not the first startup to launch this year on the tailwinds of remote, flexible and customized work. But it differentiates in its focus on putting the exact right teams together as opposed to casting the widest net of freelancers possible.
“There are plenty of systems that will arrange freelance talent,” Skahan said. “But in an industry that's all about talent, we haven't really shifted to thinking about this as a casting exercise.”