We’re All Contractors, Some Of Us Just Have Longer/Better Contracts

Lance Jensen, Chief Creative Officer at Hill Holliday in Boston, seems like a guy I would get along with and enjoy working for. But his comments below about freelancing lead me to question both my present path and the validity of his argument.

Jensen says a creative needs to have “skin in the game.” That we need to care about our ideas making it into production, and actually helping to grow a client’s business. It’s a perfectly logical point of view, except for one small fact. Many people with skin in the game couldn’t give a shit about their clients. That may not be true on Jensen’s staff, but it is true to a large degree throughout the business. It’s one of the central problems the agency business must address to make itself more useful to clients and their customers/prospects.

Additionally, I would argue that a freelancer brings more than a fresh mind to the client problems at hand. A freelancer is not bogged down with the political bullshit that exists in every agency under the sun. Therefore, the freelancer is free to think good thoughts on the client’s behalf. When you have skin in the game, you also have prickly and/or cutthroat colleagues to dodge. Which is a huge distraction. Depending on the length of service at the agency, a creative staffer may also be worn out by the daily grind.

Yes, I know many leaders at agencies big and small won’t see themselves, or their agencies, in this. I just said that many creative staffers don’t care about their clients and that the toxicity of office politics is eating away at the foundation of the agency business. Agency leaders are human, and often good people. They don’t want to see their baby painted in such stark terms. I sympathize, but my sympathy doesn’t remove the criticism.

Jensen uses the analogy of a band, and that’s one I tend to favor, as well. But let’s admit that many bands suffer from internal strife, and that after a few great albums their creative powers begin to fade. Sure, they often hang on for another 20 years, but they’re rarely as prolific or “on fire” like they once were. My point is an agency, particularly a large one, is more like a label than a band and the label needs to keep things fresh.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.