The shape of things to come
Nomadic, A-List creative talent no longer desire offices with ping pong tables and free snacks, argues Jon Williams, CEO and Founder of The Liberty Guild, because the way advertising does business is changing and the sooner companies - especially large networks - recognise that, the better.
The creative business is changing. We can see the working relationships that creatives have with both clients and employers is in the middle of a genuine and irreversible revolution.
A revolution precipitated by a heady mix of technology, Covid and history. Sixty years ago, in the Hollywood hills, something happened which was hugely prescient for the situation we find ourselves in today. Consumer demand, and the emergence of new channels to market, changed the game for the sleepy old studios.
Sixty years ago, in the Hollywood hills, something happened which was hugely prescient for the situation we find ourselves in today.
There used to be seven ‘Majors’ that cranked out movies to the picture houses. Then this new-fangled thing called TV rocked up and customers couldn’t get enough. In 1960, 72% of US films were made by the major studios but, by 1990, the studios' share had dropped to a mere 36%. Consumers wanted more content. And better content. Both of which the major studios, with their full-time, tenured staff and tried-and-trusted processes, weren’t set up to deliver.
Those studios used to produce and distribute films using a full-time standing army of artists, directors, writers, editors, lighting technicians, and props makers, all ruled by ‘larger-than-life’ ego driven, studio bosses. You can see where I’m going with this, right?
Above: By the 1960s, the structure of the major studios in Hollywood needed to change, much in the same way Williams believes that agency structures needs to alter now.
The distribution shift meant that the in-house talent couldn't cope, and to service the need, the number of entertainment-related independent companies in Southern California more than tripled. Most of those companies were fewer than 10 people. All were staffed by freelance talent. They offered the huge range of services required to deliver the new content required. It’s still how it is. Different era, different channel, but the same thing is happening to advertising now.
As the big networks stumble and falter, you see the corollary rise of the independent creative and strategist.
Now, in the warm California sun, independent talent coalesces around a project and delivers amazing creativity, then disperses, only to reassemble in a different shape around the next project, like a glorious murmuration of starlings. That is our future. In fact, it’s already happening. As the big networks stumble and falter, you see the corollary rise of the independent creative and strategist, with different tribes, alliances and allegiances forming on the fly.
Just like the studios, the network groups are in pain. Then, to compound the misery, along came Covid and, again, California was at the front of change. The leads taken by Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Salesforce have pretty much ended the 9-to-5 job as we know it. Everyone and anyone lucky enough to be in a service business can work from anywhere. Forever. Normal just got redefined. As Brent Hyder, President and Chief People Officer at Salesforce put it; “An immersive workspace is no longer limited to a desk in our Towers; the 9-to-5 workday is dead, and the employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks.” This is huge for us. This is a massive shift for the creative industries.
The 9-to-5 workday is dead, and the employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks.
And Adland, always throwing side-eyes at its cooler cousin on the west coast, will soon follow suit. Let’s face it, we’re all competing for the same ‘creative minds’ now, whether in or out of the office. That talent wants the same treatment from whichever employer they temporarily hitch their wagon to. Covid has drained the kool aid of ‘agency culture’ dry somewhat.
Above: The monotony of the nine-to-five workday, where every one turns up at the same office, are gone.
At the end of the day, I hope all of this breaks our obsession with size, as well as shape. The future of our workplace is not ‘one front door’, or ‘horizontality’, or ‘global team'; it needs more than that. Those who employ creatives need to look at how teams in high performing start-ups operate. See how Klarna inverts the pyramid of control to empower their teams and increase engagement. Take the autonomy and the work centred processes from Spotify (and leave the complexity). Look at the processes and structures used by the big tech giants and apply it in an innovative way to creative services.
High-performance teams have an optimal shape and size. And it’s small, not big.
That means embracing the pool of outstanding freelance talent around the world. Just like the lesson from Hollywood, this creative and strategic elite has the skillset, along with the working practices, that clients and agencies need. The west coast experience teaches us that high-performance teams have an optimal shape and size. And it’s small, not big. The trick is to engineer that ‘optimal’ structure to be replicable time and time again, and therefore become eminently scalable. Big-Small, you might say. A bit like Hollywood is now.
Above: Technology grants today's workforce the ability to be nomadic without jeopardising the quality of their output.
But, as with all things, technology has the last word. Or, rather, what it has done for the global creative cohort does; that growing, nomadic community of ‘A-List’ creative and strategic talent who have made the decision to leave agency life. All ages, all genders, all over the world, don’t understand why they need to work all the hours God sends, and have zero work/life balance, when there is an alternative.
For [freelancers], it’s not about working from home, it’s about working from anywhere. And there’s a massive difference.
There is an exodus to a portfolio career. Some have private clients, some work with agencies, some work directly with brands, some have personal projects. They flourish. But for them, it’s not about working from home, it’s about working from anywhere. And there’s a massive difference.
On the whole, they haven’t been forced to work from the kitchen table by a global pandemic, they made the explicit choice to jump off the burning platform and find sanctuary. On top of that, the virus has accelerated the move out of town for those who have a choice. You can find them in the north of Scotland, on the west coast of France, the Grenadines, Crouch End, Goa… wherever.
Technology allows the creative diaspora to go wherever it damn well wants to. Technology has changed the game. And the game just got more interesting.