Working With is the New Working For


Right now he has a great job, an important job, the kind of job most agency strategists would kill for. But the job has an expiration date and he’s planning for the future. I’ll never forget the night my friend called me to tell me that he had gotten his great job. I stood in my driveway and he told he was going to work for the President of the United States, managing what would become the third largest Twitter feed on the planet. Facebook too.

So what’s a guy like that to do after the election and his job goes away? He could look for an agency job and probably have his pick. But he’s going to start one instead, one that embraces a fundamental truth in the changing agency, creative and marketing economy: working with is the new working for.

Consultants have been around for, well, ever. That’s nothing new. And this is not it. My friend’s agency, 18 Coffees, is a collection of talented contributors. Contributors, not employees. Central to their purpose is to manage relationships with specialists, passionate creators they can assign to a project, allowing the work to dictate the agency structure, not the other way around. The flexibility of the model is not only good for the company, which can be nimble, pliant to the needs of clients and lean, but for the kinds of people that work with the company, it’s the closest thing to a dream job.

My friend Ryan is a filmmaker. He and his partner have made feature films, shorts, commercials. They’ve won digital film festivals, Addys and are going to be featured in May at the Cannes Festival. They are the kind of talented people agencies can benefit from working with, not insisting they work for. Another friend, Matt, is a writer who doesn’t want the 9-5, but is brilliant at telling stories. Another friend is a designer with a successful small design business. She’s not interested in going to work for an agency.

Agency culture is shifting. Creativity is no longer solely about the cultivation of awards, but a cultivation of talented people coming together to solve real problems. An agency’s name has traditionally been built on its reputation, but the new economy built on the strength of work-from-anywhere talented professionals means that agencies in the future will be built on the reputation of their networks.

Small, lean, nimble. The right team for the right work. It’s how startups are built, how the world is changing. There is no gold watch, no pension plan – not in the post-Tim Ferris, post-Macklemore and Ryan Lewis digital, creative industrial complex. The agencies of the future will be a small core team surrounded by a constantly improving, ever-evolving network of passionate creative pens-for-hire. Otherwise, the danger will be that creativity will become the purview of the independents and agencies will be relegated to production work.

The best ideas don’t care who the person who comes up with them works. The best work comes from the best minds, regardless of retirement plan.

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