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The ability to find and activate top freelance talent will separate great brands from the rest.
I wrote that sentence back in April, predicting that the rising demand for specialized creative talent combined with a booming freelance economy would transform the makeup of marketing teams for good. At Skyword, we dubbed this The Great Talent Rush--and we were right.
Four months later, nearly 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in a span of four weeks, marking the highest quit rate since the Department of Labor began collecting resignation data two decades ago.
If The Great Resignation has taught companies anything, it's that top talent is at a premium. A record-breaking number of people aren't just quitting their jobs out of frustration; they've gained a better understanding of their worth, and the confidence to seek out greater professional satisfaction--whatever that means for them personally.
For a growing number of people in marketing and the creative arts, that has involved transitioning from full-time to freelance work. And it's happened at a scale sufficient to change the very fabric of our industry. In the U.S. right now, a whopping 77% of artists and designers and 58% of marketing professionals are freelancers.
While over two-thirds of business leaders struggled to hire marketing resources last year, a surge of free agents with commensurate skills entered the labor market. But, they weren't looking for full-time roles. And they won't be any time soon.
It's time for brands to meet top talent on the talent's own terms.
The Culture Around Content is Changing
The need to embrace external talent is starkly evident when we zoom in on content creation.
In today's content-hungry world, publishing more of the same is a recipe for failure. Brands compete for fandom, not just attention.
The entities best known for building loyal fan bases have tapped into people's growing attraction to experiences that feel rare and personal. Look no further than Taylor Swift's latest album drop or the sudden success of NBA Top Shot. Each combines principles of delightful surprise, authentic connection, and exclusive value to capture audiences and keep them engaged.
As brands shift from merely campaigning to building increasingly specialized experiences for customers, it reinforces the need for creators who are:
Expert craftspeople in the specific storytelling mediums you want to use;
Immersed, not just conversant, in the industries, topics, and/or cultures you're covering;
Representative of the audiences you want to connect with;
And distant enough from your brand to bring fresh perspective and insights to the table.
At the same time, our rapidly changing business and digital landscape demands that marketing teams pivot quickly, innovate with minimal risk, and deliver quality content at scale and speed.
In this respect, the freelance model is ideal for:
Tapping into the right skills, at the right time, without the risks or capital investment involved with hiring;
Rapidly diversifying and testing new content types;
Adding resources quickly to cover new audiences and verticals;
And activating regional talent to ensure global content is adapted for local relevance.
At Skyword, we're privileged to help brands bring their marketing ambitions to life through the extraordinary talents of freelance creators and an expert team of editors and digital producers who guide their efforts.
I can't think of a better way to close out a transformative year than by celebrating that work in action.
Here's a snapshot of content from three creators who helped brands move beyond the expected this year, what they had to say about their work, and their advice on how brands can forge stronger creative partnerships with freelance creators.
Han Castenedo, Quickbooks' Illustrated Playbook for Small Business Owners
Han Castenedo is a Latine multidisciplinary designer who freelances in addition to serving as a full-time product designer for The Atlantic. Since the inception of her freelance business, Han's passion for serving her community has driven her to offer special rates to minority-owned and small businesses.
Collaborating with Quickbooks on a fully-illustrated small business playbook designed for Hispanic and Latine entrepreneurs was a perfect fit--and a personal investment for Han.
"I do think that there are often language barriers and cultural barriers that prevent this community in particular from being served by design…to be able to make that information more accessible for that community was huge," she says.
Within two weeks, Quickbooks was launching the playbook at a star-studded event honoring Latine small business owners and operators as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. The asset was a hit, called out by guests on social and even by panelist Pitbull during the event.
As an external creator who shares Quickbooks' passion for its audience, Han was able to bring the brand's very specific tone, look, and feel to life with a vibrancy that honored the inspirational mission of the asset and enriched the brand's vision.
Andrew Ganz, Capital One's Auto Navigator Learning Center
Andrew Ganz is a seasoned automotive journalist and senior editor for High Gear Media who, for the last 12 years, has freelanced for business, finance, and trade publications. While his technical knowledge is vital when it comes to reviewing vehicles for car magazines, he really enjoys translating that expertise into actionable advice for consumers who are less fluent in car talk.
That made him exactly the type of expert Capital One wanted to tap into to further the vision for its Auto Navigator experience--a single marketplace and learning center designed to seamlessly guide consumers through every moment or their car buying journey.
Andrew sees his level of expertise as vital to helping Capital One provide trustworthy guidance to its customers, and ensuring its content is providing more than the usual generic advice.
"It's so worth it to pursue people who have a deep understanding of what they're talking about, even if it's for a general audience," Andrew says. "If I'm even slightly informed, and I read a review or advice, and know that it's written by someone who doesn't know what they're talking about, at best, it's confusing. And at worst, it's just a waste of my time, and it's going to be a waste of their time to them."
Capital One's Auto Navigator experience continues to expand the brand's authority in the automotive space and ensure the end-to-end experience for customers is exceptionally helpful at every touchpoint.
Cory Popp, Abbott's Careers Videos
Cory Popp is a professional film director, director of photography, and camera operator who creates everything from documentaries to music videos for brands like Samsung, Nike, National Geographic, HBO, and Netflix.
What better storyteller to help Abbott show customers exactly how it creates and brings life-changing technologies to the public?
This year, Cory worked with Abbott employees to capture not just the technology, but the stories of the people behind it, including what drives their relentless pursuit of innovation. In this case, Cory documented how Abbott's Technology team used mixed emerging technologies to train remote engineers to produce rapid COVID tests.
"The team at Abbott is really dedicated to creating interesting and fun content," Cory says. "It's been a great collaborative process. I love a team that knows what they want, but also allows for certain freedoms when creating content. Being open to ideas is a great starting point. You're hiring an external creator for a reason. "
Abbott's Talent Acquisition team uses these videos to show candidates what a career at Abbott actually looks like--without any of the talking heads or employee quotes overused in similar content.
Freelancers' Lessons for Brand Leaders
Here's what these creators had to say about how brands can better work with them:
Han: "Our visual language is not always great for conveying the vibes, the tone, and the underlying effort the client hopes to see, so when you can provide visual references of what you like...the lines of one image ...the style of this other image...it can serve as a kind of mood board that can bridge the gap when communicating your intentions to a designer ahead of time."
Andrew: "I think allowing yourself to trust in the writer is a big thing. Not micromanaging the process, but providing timely responses and feedback so I can produce the right quality of work."
Cory: "I know this may be a bit of a trope, but there's a reason communication is always wheeled out as a key to success. Make sure ideas are fleshed out, methods are secured, and everyone is on the same page."
If you've been frustrated trying to hire your way towards better content, I urge you to consider thinking instead about how you can bring freelance creators into the fold.
Your ideal creators are out there, and I guarantee they'll help you see your own brand in fresh, unexpected ways. What's most important is that you let them.
It's up to us, as brands, to give our creators the tools, trust, and partnership they need to achieve the final vision we're striving for.