Digital agencies' use of freelancers 'soaring'

Demand from the UK’s digital and design agencies for freelancers is “soaring” – albeit for not entirely positive reasons that could prove challenging for such independent workers.

In an authoritative industry report, based on the views of almost 500 agency staff, exactly two-thirds of respondents said agencies’ use of digital/design freelancers is on the increase.

But other findings in the report, by staffing firms Fairley & Associates, Gabriele Skelton and On Pointe Marketing, indicate a less than auspicious motive for freelancers flourishing.

Almost 90% of the agency staff said clients expected more work for less money and 70% said they expected free pitches to involve more work. Most crucially, 80% said client budgets had been reduced.

The result of less cash incoming to agencies, but with greater workloads expected, explains why fewer of them are taking on staff permanently (at least according to the majority of respondents), just as their intake of freelancers is booming.

“Design and digital firms are feeling the squeeze from the UK’s double dip into recession during the last year,” reflected Rachel Fairley, the report’s leading author.

“[Their clients] are demanding more work…[but] for less money to make up for their budget cuts.”

Report co-author Karen Beasley agreed: “Agencies are busy and there is work out there, but it’s definitely a case of ‘more for less’.”

She explained that, as a result of the pressures, established freelancers in the digital and design market could see fresh competition from candidates who would ordinarily seek full-time work.

“The soaring use of freelancers is driving many permanent workers to take contracts, so talent is harder to find,” said Ms Beasley. “We hope 2013 will be better as agencies adjust to working with smaller budgets and more smartly.”

So far however, the only response from affected agencies is to ‘name and shame’ the big brands that are asking for free pitches, which social media acted as a beacon for, according to On Pointe Marketing’s Stef Brown.

“Times are tough, and it’s all too easy to over-deliver in pitch and give too much away, especially when your peers have jumped on that bandwagon,” she said.

“But consider this – the act of giving Intellectual Property away commoditises services. This undermines clients’ appreciation of the value of agency expertise and they then may refuse to pay a premium for those services. If enough agencies take a stand and stop this practice, clients will follow suit.”


13th January 2013

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