Over the past year, several companies and thousands of freelancers have signed on to a project aimed at helping both groups broaden their horizons, with marketers getting access to global talent while creatives get to travel the world.
Wanderbrief is a creative network startup that lets writers, designers, videographers and photographers submit their portfolios to its website to apply for project gigs at agencies or brands. Instead of accepting money, they work in exchange for airfare, room and board.
Last year, copywriter Mark van der Heijden and former Havas Boondoggle strategy director Valentijn van Santvoort started Wanderbrief to give other creatives the same shot at adventure that van der Heijden enjoyed as The Backpacker Intern, a two-year journey where he traded work for free lodging around the globe.
The startup, based in Amsterdam, has since expanded globally, with more corporations signing on for “version 2.0” of the Wanderbrief site, which van der Heijden debuted this week while speaking at SXSW Interactive. Since last year, Wanderbrief has attracted the interest of 6,500 creatives willing to pack up and travel abroad for a project with top-tier brands such as Adobe, Red Bull, Heineken, Porsche, Vodafone and Amnesty International. Wanderbrief has also attracted the interest of offices within agency networks TBWA, Ogilvy and DDB.
At SXSW, van der Heijden spoke about the benefits of working abroad, including his success with Wanderbrief.
Van der Heijden noted that Wanderbrief appeals to both today’s growing freelance economy and the fact that 78 percent of millennials value experiences over money. But he admits that getting some corporations to sign on at the beginning was a challenge.
“Corporate ones were like, ‘What do you mean, there’s no money [involved]? The quality [of the work] might not be good enough.’ But so far, all the people we sent abroad have over-delivered,” van der Heijden said. “People’s motivations to do this aren’t money-driven, they’re experience-driven. They want to work on their personal branding, and build their portfolios.”
Take Austrian photographer Philipp Benedikt, who submitted this clever video as his Wanderbrief application. The video helped land him a two-week stint taking photos for Vodafone’s Instagram account in Amsterdam.
Wanderbrief also is a great talent attraction and retention tool for companies involved, van der Heijden added. “Companies use it as a platform to show prospective employers what it’s like to work there. It’s also cheaper than hiring a local freelancer, because you don’t have to pay them in money. It’s a win-win.”
He’s aware, however, that the idea of unpaid work is a much-debated one in the creative industry, where many feel that businesses are too eager to exploit designers and other talents for vague benefits like “exposure.” But van der Heijden believes there’s a clear distinction between Wanderbrief and the kind of businesses that typically expect creatives to work without pay.
As someone who spent two years traveling the world, foregoing pay in favor of new creative opportunities and lodging, van der Heijden can vouch for the value of taking your skills to the global stage.
“Although they don’t get paid in money, our model is a valuable way to invest in themselves. By trading their skills, they travel, get unforgettable work-life experiences abroad, collaborate with other cultures, build international portfolio pieces and get amazing perks such as balloon rides, snowboarding trips and test drives with a Porsche 911,” van der Heijden said. “More than 6,500 freelancers from 87 countries believe in this lifestyle and signed up, because we’re giving them something money can’t buy.”
“Last but not least,” he said, “the briefs are all short-term gigs—between one and four weeks—so they can go on Wanderbrief adventures between paid jobs. From our experience, it actually helped them to get even more paid projects because we skyrocket their careers through our global network.”
Adventurous creatives get renewed energy from their experiences, as well.
“Travel is one of the best drugs for creativity,” he said. “You’re constantly in a new environment, with different smells, colors and people popping up, and that’s all inspiration.”