By Steve May, Copywriter and Director at ROCKATANSKY.
As one who has spent time playing in both creative corners, I thought I’d share some tidbits of observation and inspiration.
While there are nuances when it comes to the work and briefs you receive, the dynamic of a freelancer to a permanent does differ quite a lot.
For one thing, time differs.
A long time ago, in an agency far, far away, my creative partner and I (permanents) would find ourselves toiling well into the double figures of an evening, basically 5 days a week.
Often, it was expected. More than often it was because you wanted to – you needed to. Late nights are part of the apprenticeship in Adland. As with all creative endeavours, you get out what you put in.
Freelancing, on the other hand, is a bit different. For one thing, your apprenticeship is over – so you should be fast at what you do. Sure, you’ll stay a little over your agreed quitting time-frame, but not to the extent a permanent creative would (accounts payable would eviscerate you if extra half days started appearing on your invoices).
Mind you, leaving at 6pm doesn’t mean you care any less about the work. You just need to remember that in your capacity as a freelancer you’re bolted onto a company, rather than welded to it.
Welcome to life as a supplier.
While you may not go to the long lunches or all-staff meetings, suppliers do, however, have the ability to work on other projects away from the mothership.
Sure, sounds simple to rock-up, do you work and bugger off. That’s what suppliers do. Guns for hire. Mercenaries. In and out. Easy, right?
Because when you’re freelancing at a company for a length of time, while not welded, you cannot help but become at least stitched to that agency’s fabric. It’s human nature. Being a creative is about trust, teamwork, collaboration. The more you work, the more you’re strengthening the bonds with your temporary team mates. Making friends, building trust. So much so, that when the next all-staff meeting rolls along, and you’re not in it (from a distant boardroom you hear the clapping, laughter and sometimes cheers), you do find yourself taking a moment of reflection as you sit alone in the open plan of empty work stations, wishing you weren’t sitting on the bench. After all, creatives are confidence players.
Doesn’t take long to snap yourself out of this brooding.
For what the freelancer misses in team bonding, they gleefully make up for in the avoidance of agency politics.
Permanents are in all the meetings – good and bad. Sure, they enjoy the praise, but also take the hits. Doozies of hits. Advertising ain’t all ping pong and beanbags. You need a thick skin in this game. Calloused skin. Head to toe.
I’ve seen phones thrown. Walls punched. Tables up-turned. I’ve witnessed shouting matches, nose-to-nose. And way too many tears shed. Those innocent little 30second commercials come at a cost, with incredible pressure from all directions dropped on all departments in an agency.
Freelancers tend to be able to keep much of this havoc at arm’s length and concentrate on the work at-hand (even though from time to time you find yourself being a shoulder to some of the battle weary).
Can you give opinions? Yes, that’s why you’re there: for your thinking, your mind. Do you have as much clout in certain scenarios? No. But that’s ok, even though sometimes you wish you did. Can you join your friends on bonding days and long lunches? If you don’t charge, sure. Bugger.
But then again, you’re not there till the wee hours of the morning while other creatives gawk at ceilings, chew pen lids into oblivion, and pray to the idea Gods, either.
Freelancing works especially well for senior creatives when it comes to the old work life balance thing. Being able to walk into a joint, pick up a brief and run with it is a valued skill, too.
Yes, you do make a lot of friends and build a network and get to work in some great places, but never forget that when you’re freelancing, you’re a supplier, and you need to work bloody hard and really fast.
On the flip-side, never forget you’re also ‘free’. Hell, it even says it in the name.