It's time for our industry to dance to a better rhythm

It's time for our industry to dance to a better rhythm

Eli Pinto, co-founder and chief executive of Sharp Co-Lab UK and alumna of Campaign's Digital Mavericks 2017, shares her lessons from the ladder.

I’m an ex-professional ballet dancer. Dancing was my first career and although one could think that the leap between dance and marketing and technology is a rather odd one, there are a multitude of similarities between the two.

I realise it is rather unusual to talk about the concept of "natural rhythms" when writing an article for an advertising publication, but bear with me for a second. In dance, as in nature, everything is in perpetual movement.

Martha Graham, considered to be the mother of modern dance, started studying this concept in 1930 and it became one of the most important aspects in early modern dance. For her, movement originated in the tension of a contracted muscle, and continued in the flow of energy released from the body as the muscle relaxed.

This concept was ingrained in me from my earliest years. Nothing that lasts is rigid. Everything needs to move, flow, expand and contract. We are never static. Even large building structures need to allow for movement.

I compare this with how the marketing and advertising industries have recently been getting out of their comfort zones by embracing new ways of working in response to client demands for swift, intelligent and dynamic work and teams.

Gig economy

The "future of work movement" relies on the on-demand resourcing model. Today, the gig economy is pushing this trend further, with creative and technology freelancers representing 26% of the overall gig work. According to a recent study by Accenture, in 2020, 43% of the US workforce will be freelance, making it the fastest growing labour market in the world.

We’re starting to see agency shops timidly popping up where freelance professionals come in and out of a "gig" in a similar fashion to how an Uber or Deliveroo driver would, making the agency an ever-changing entity.

But what happens when this model is fully adopted as a new operating structure, as opposed to using freelance talent to manage the ebb and flow of client work during busy times? What are the consequences for agencies? How can we differentiate ourselves if talent is not owned, but shared across competitor shops? Is the agency’s role that of a platform similar to the app a customer would use to book their taxi home?

If we look back at the "madmen" days, we will see how the figure of the celebrity creative director was present across all major advertising agencies. Clients had a personal relation with these figures and moved wherever they went in search for their talent.

With the introduction of on-demand models, agencies wanting to position themselves differently are going back to "madmen" days by hiring these exceptionally talented and known individuals that have gained a name for their outstanding work and recognitions.

Cross-talent teams

What else can we do to stand out? I would argue that cross-talent teams should not only be sourced from agencyland but from any sector: accountants for a financial services brief, astronauts for a holiday-of-the-future project or car engineers as we did when working on the famous Fiat eco:Drive project a while back.

There is a clear challenge we are going to face if the trend continues in this direction. What happens to IP when agencies’ work is delivered by a brilliant team of ‘gig-workers’? The spotlight is not only on the agency anymore. Innovative ideas, processes and methodologies could belong to both the agency and these brilliant teams of freelance professionals.

Perhaps agencies will need to consider new remuneration structures based on shared ownership of ideas and not simply the number of days spent on a project. We will need to define an agency model that satisfies professionals who prefer ‘freedom to choose’: the hours, types of projects and indeed their pay. The agency world needs to adapt to demands for greater flexibility, autonomy and ownership – all valued far more than job security.  

We are testing this new thinking by mostly using an on-demand model that draws on experts who collaborate for the duration of the project. They join for the love of the project, which means a great sense of shared ownership from day one. We work at pace, in well-defined teams and unlock innovative solutions through a defined process.

And while we strive to refine the perfect agency shape over the coming months, some of the benefits are already becoming clear: the best minds in the market can come together to tackle an immediate challenge, work the hours they choose, on the projects they choose which will deliver a higher sense of happiness.

This will surely create a better rhythm for our industry and our clients as we strive to deliver inspirational and meaningful work.  

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