Can the gig economy work for marketing?
A huge number of new industries, fuelled exclusively by short-term contracts, have sprung up in the new ‘gig economy’. From the now-established Uber taxi drivers, and Deliveroo lasagna, to people offering to do your gardening, walk your dog, or even put together that new IKEA dining table.
An estimated five million people now work in the gig economy. Most love the flexibility. No pestering the boss to sign off that last-minute holiday request – you pick your hours and your work. Given that free time is now more of a luxury than ever, it’s got to be a good thing, no? All that freedom might even offset the disadvantages of no job security, no sick pay or no holiday allowance.
Being a freelancer myself I can certainly see the benefits.
When I got my first permanent copywriter job, I had a long-term plan of going freelance at some point. I even blurted it out in my interview:
Future boss: “Where do you see yourself in five years time?”
Me: “er... on a beach somewhere, doing a bit of writing every now and then”.
Surprisingly, I got the job. And just over five years later I was heading off to go it alone as a freelance writer. A lot of what I’ve done since has offered me the flexibility I always dreamt of, if not the sunny locations. OK I never got the beach desk. But I did once do a Microsoft blog from a cherry orchard.
But what effect has the gig economy had on the marketing industry?
As a senior freelance writer, I work with a handful of professional agencies such as Rufus Leonard. I might get booked for half a day or a whole month, but I usually work closely as part of the team. My day rate compensates my time, recognises my experience and rewards my efforts. And it fully covers the transient nature of the work.
Freelancing certainly has some great benefits for professionals. But the explosion of the gig economy is taking us in a new direction – towards a lowest-bid approach that, when taken too far, can simply mean lower quality and value. Plus, there’s the thorny issue of exploitation – especially in industries that rely on lower skills and pay. As rates are cut and the usual benefits and rights done away with, are we enabling greater employee freedom – or just fuelling a generation of low-paid workers?
New digital platforms allow people to work in gig-focused ways. Whether it’s getting things done with Rated People and Fantastic Cleaners, getting places with Uber, or just getting away with Airbnb.
And it’s the same within marketing. Platforms like Fiverr offer writers and designers the chance to bid on contracts. Businesses can browse profiles, send a brief through and get a response within minutes. Just like Airbnb or Rated People, up-to-date customer reviews and ratings give some reassurance of quality and professionalism. The community regulates itself by sharing information, rewarding good service and keeping everyone safe.
For loads of small businesses a service like this must be a real gift. Copywriters available on tap to produce some quick social media content, name a product, write a short press release, or spruce up their home page copy. For freelancers too, the safe payment process undoubtedly ensures they get paid securely and on-time.
But for me, the bit that’s missing is what makes the freelance gig work best – the relationship between client and creative. Personally, I find all that competitive pricing takes the focus away from the work and makes it just about hitting the lowest bid. And some of the prices on those sites are extremely low. Surely quality work deserves proper remuneration? And what client wouldn’t rather develop a relationship with a creative who’ll invest the time in getting to know what the brand stands for and what they need. It works both ways.
One marketing gig service I do use though, is Yuno Juno. Their simple digital platform connects quality freelancers with great companies. It’s not about clicking on ads but expanding your ‘little black book’ and finding the right person for the right job. Companies can book writers and designers direct or post public briefs.
Then there are the gig-driven marketing agencies. These tend to be smaller agencies with a core of 5 or 6 full time employee-directors. They then scale up or down according to the number projects in the pipeline. For the agency, it avoids expensive overheads and empty desks. And for the freelancer, it’s quality, regular work that’s well paid.
Clearly working in the gig economy has benefits and setbacks. Contracting can be very rewarding if you’ve got the right skills and are lucky enough to feel valued. While I appreciate the freedom of freelancing, I still prefer to build professional relationships over time, rather than clicking for contracts.