Owning Up to Our Industry’s Core (In)competency: Drawing the Line on Theft of Voice


Today we bring you a guest post by Stan Friedman, founding principal at San Francisco’s Pivotal Communications.

As a 1099er (freelancer, specialist or consultant), is your creative output economically under-valued by the agencies and creative shops with which you work?

Do you relinquish “authorship” in exchange for receiving compensation, harboring doubts and fears of receiving no future work, or trying to avoid a reputation as “difficult to work with” or “not a team player?”

Do you acquiesce to work-for-hire, NDAs and non-competes that clearly minimize your value — and your future ability to capitalize on your creative worth or unique skill offering?

If the answer to any of these occurrences is “Yes”, then you’ll need to own up to the truth about what’s happening in your career’s backyard…and decide what you’re willing to do about it.

You cannot straddle the divide between ethical right-and-wrong and complacency, no matter your generational values…Nexter, Millennial, Gen X or Boomer.

Firms and shops rent freelance creative and media professionals at all levels with at least two rationales:  1) The agency is stretched to capacity yet doesn’t want to risk the client going elsewhere for any reason; 2) The firm doesn’t have the specific expertise in-house to pull a project off but wants to give the appearance that it’s housing said project so decides to outsource to a specialist who does have the chops to deliver.  It’s easy to see the “what” and “why” behind an agency making these decisions.

There may be a different, less salient, reason (one best not mentioned to the client): the agency is riding the outside talent’s coattails.

It usually plays out like this: The invisible 1099er hits one out of the park, giving the agency the room to commit “theft-of-voice.”  Or the agency simply tweaks the campaign, with minor revisions, to claim that they’ve “elevated it” to produce a substantially different result, marginalizing the “special sauce” enough to validate its claim of authorship — without properly crediting the 1099er contributions.

That said, there are agencies that will acknowledge and celebrate the 1099er’s role in the process and look smart to their clients by telling the truth — that they want to do their best for them — and having the right relationships to go out and add the best talent to their teams. These agencies know how to play the bigger game.

So how does the 1099er stand up for equality amidst downturns, minimal employment, we win-you lose work agreements and decaying compensation?

The answer to that question is all about developing the determination to challenge the status quo from the playing-the-get-along game to resistant negotiation…and continually pushing back on customary practices.

If what you do can be done by dozens of others, an agency can and will hire them instead. A consultant’s attributable worth is only as good as his or her willingness to protect the integrity of creative output. Always remember this indisputable truth and make the tough, smart choices.

Be the master of your own destiny.

Media & Market Strategist-Tactician Stan Friedman profiles brands and issues.  As Pivotal Communications Founding Principal, he continues working as an iconoclastic problem-solver and corporate gadfly. He most recently won the PRWeek Awards 2014 “Corporate Branding Campaign of the Year” (for Seymour PR and Sabra Dipping Co.)