How Agencies Can Benefit From the Gig Economy While Providing Much-Desired Work-Life Balance for Employees

It's a win-win for all parties involved

By hiring permalancing and freelancing, agencies can offer their employees the work-life balance they desire. Getty Images
Headshot of Benjamin Arnold

The age of impermanence is here. As the North American head of a small creative agency, I’m seeing several trends that tell me this is so.

First of all, the brand and agency models are shifting; lengthy retainers are being replaced by flexible, project-based relationships. That, coupled with the workforce becoming ever-more fluid. There’s been a stark rise in employee preference for the freelance life, forcing employers to re-evaluate their processes.

Further, strategies need near constant optimization as the escalating rate of unpredictable change in the industry is forcing more frequent and wholesale re-evaluation of plans and media. Even the work itself is more temporary; ephemeral content is becoming the norm, demanding more efficient and nimbler non-traditional means of production.

For many folks agency-side, this is a nerve-wracking predicament. For an impermanent way of working is an inherently unstable and uncomfortable model for agencies, small and large. But should this necessarily be a cause for concern? Or could this, in fact, be seen as the meta-making of the solution? What would happen if shops embraced this fluidity rather than fought against it? By being adaptive to this series of evolving paradigms, they can tap into the gig economy talent pool that is making this new dynamic viable.

Ultimately, it’s about the work and strong leadership maintaining a particular agency aesthetic or voice.

Today’s new job seekers, more so than previous generations, have embraced—even demanded in certain scenarios—greater work/life flexibility and balance. Freelance professionals are focusing on specialization and cherry-picking projects to more deeply satisfy their own personal career goals and quality of work experience. It’s becoming almost imperative for agencies to have a deeper talent pool from which to choose. Multi-faceted, generalist strategists are hard to find, so being able to cherry-pick specialties according to projects is good on the employer side.

If agencies start to diminish the importance of the full-time employee and start embracing short-term talent contracts, what is the downside to that, if any? Loss or diminishment of company culture? Despite more turnover, I think the pillars of a strong culture will remain. Ultimately, it’s about the work and strong leadership maintaining a particular agency aesthetic or voice. As long as agencies do great work that’s true to them and what their people are proud of, the culture lives on.

Meanwhile, it’s win-win for brands, who are already delivering efficiency through in-house hires and improving quality of service by creating a culture of always-on, constant pitching among agencies. The solution for agencies then is building larger pools of trusted freelance and permalance up and down weight talent according to needs. The breadth of different experiences that freelancers bring at any given time can make for an even more dynamic culture.

Of course, easier said than done for some. It’s no secret that the agency model has been under attack for years as the big global guns play out their mid-life crises in public.

This fluidity presents a serious challenge for some agencies to offer this type of flexible and adaptive model when they’re often built on processes and layers of stakeholders. Smaller, nimbler agencies are perhaps more inclined to lean into this new state of chaos.

Because of the transformational impact of digital technology on media consumption and consumer behavior, all agencies have been grappling with just how best to fortify their ranks, expand their value propositions and deliver greater value to their brand marketer clients. Could what seems like an evolutionary moment now provide a better value exchange and more accountable relationships between brands and agencies?

We think so.

Benjamin Arnold is the managing director of We Are Social, North America.