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There's Creative Work to Be Done

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Demand for freelance creatives has picked up steadily in the past two months, with one headhunter estimating that her firm's placements have jumped 300 percent in the last month alone. Not surprisingly, the upswing, which follows a particularly slow summer, stems mainly from work created by the recent flurry of sizeable account reviews, such as those for UPS, Pizza Hut, Volkswagen of America and Cadillac, according to headhunters, agency leaders and freelancers.

Creative Circle in New York is now placing about 50 creatives a week and that number has been fairly constant since October, said Sue Norelle, an account manager in charge of new business development at the firm. "Things really turned around," Norelle said, with placements up "around 300 percent in the past month."

Other headhunters, including Anne-Marie Marcus of Marcus St. Jean in New York, Susan Kirshenbaum of Greenberg Kirshenbaum in New York and Lucy Marino of The Creative Group in San Francisco, also confirmed a rise in freelance creative placements, though they were unable to quantify the gains.

"It's a positive sign that there is activity," said Marcus, expressing an industry-wide sentiment, "and, as a result, the freelance market has bounced back in a good way."

The recent uptick comes against the backdrop of what had been a miserable year for freelancers. A perfect storm of massive layoffs combined with agency cuts in freelance spending, and a relative paucity of new business opportunities forced some freelancers to slash their day rates by as much as a third, and others to consider taking less lucrative staff jobs.

In July, one freelancer described the market as "catch as catch can, but even more so because there's more competition and less freelance work available." Since Labor Day, however, the market has improved.

One veteran freelance creative director said he has worked four jobs since August, after booking just six in the first eight months of the year. Three of the four recent jobs stemmed from new business pitches, including one for UPS' global marketing services review. "All of a sudden, bang, it turned into pitch season," the cd said.

From an agency's perspective, "It went from like a dry spell in the beginning of the year, where you could get pretty much anyone ... to people [being] booked for months," said Paul Schulman, global director of creative operations at WPP Group's Young & Rubicam in New York. "Most of it is [attributable] to new business."

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