The Covid-19 pandemic has brought an important realisation to the fore: that most white-collared employees (let’s say at least in advertising) simply need a laptop, a high-speed internet connection and a desk to deliver work. While this basic infrastructure may never replace bonding with colleagues in person or brainstorming in a group, it most definitely is helping get the work done effectively.
This, however, is a secret that freelance consultants have discovered a while back. Subscribers of the ‘gig economy’ – a universe that technically includes labour such as delivery staff, drivers, home service providers, etc., in addition to skilled professionals like designers, writers, IT personnel, and strategists, to name a few – and India’s millennials are increasingly believing in taking up short-term contracts that interest them. A January 2020 report by ASSOCHAM predicts that India’s gig economy will touch $455 billion by 2023, growing at a rate of 17%. The pandemic, however, has spurred on job uncertainty with the rising unemployment expected to force more skilled professionals into consultant roles.
Closer home, India’s adland believes has bought into the concept of freelancers for quite some time Campaign India spoke to a few consultants and agency professionals to take a closer look at the dynamics.
Choice of experts
‘Clients’ have reached the same consensus: Bringing consultants on board gives agencies a wide array of specialised talent to choose from. Anand Bhadkamkar, CEO – India at dentsu cites “business needs, nature of the project and the availability of specialists” as prime considerations. In a nutshell, freelance talent helps in times agencies’ in-house teams are caught up or lack the required domain expertise.
Famous Innovations’ founder and chief creative officer, Raj Kamble, says that he seeks more digital professionals to help with clients’ business needs. “We generally work with outside experts in performance marketing, analytics, coding and programmers. Each client problem is different and it’s best to find the relevant person for the relevant job. Much like how mainline agencies bring different directors on board for different films,” he says. It’s simple; no one expects basketball players to excel in football. Kamble feels it’s exactly like that.
The freelance world
Deepak Gopalakrishan quit his full-time job in early 2019. He was looking at more autonomy in his professional life and time to focus on personal interests. Currently a content and marketing freelancer, Gopalakrishnan has had a busy 2020.
Content strategist and budding UX writer Neha Mathrani believes her workload has significantly increased due to the pandemic. A common complaint from freelancers is the lack of standardised rates for services, which more often than not boils down to negotiation skills. However, Mathrani feels this has changed thanks to Covid. “A lot more people are turning to freelancers and I have found no need to haggle on rates,” she admits. Mathrani has also since been offered project fees comparable to her full-time job.
Agency professionals believe that hiring specialised talent for projects can work out to be a bit more expensive as opposed to long-term employees. They are domain experts and tend to charge accordingly. However, they agree that the transactional relationship is hassle-free.
On the other hand, Bhadkamkar feels that working with freelancers could mean less detailed-out processes and controls. And these could give way to larger issues related to accountability measurement. Permanent employees have significant pros one can’t ignore, either. “Knowledge retention, development, the maintenance of culture, and continuity prove to be an added advantage with full-time employees,” he says.
Funnily enough, when it comes to choosing between working with agencies or directly with brands, Gopalakrishnan and Mathrani are inclined towards the latter. Gopalakrishnan veers towards smaller brands that don’t usually have agency budgets, have lesser processes and “overall are easier to work with”. Mathrani feels agencies work at a crazy pace and tend to bow to clients’ whims, preferring to work with brands if possible.
A huge issue India’s freelance base faces is the lack of concrete policies. For instance, payments can be irregular, the country’s tax and labour laws are hardly helpful with no reliable governing body to handle disputes. Freelance life also brings with it the lack of regular pay and assured health benefits. Kamble, who has worked in countries like the USA, says that India’s remote working culture has a long way to go before it meets London or New York’s standards. This is telling since it could mean that inclusive policy changes could take a while in India.
Gopalakrishnan steers the conversation back to process changes at clients’ end as the immediate need of the hour. He believes they need to become more comfortable in speaking to consultants, and for both, brands and agencies. “I think there's merit in getting communications consultants with no vested interest in execution, to the table, even if there's a plan to hire an agency or team afterwards,” he says.
Kamble closes with advice for talent that is going independent. “Please don’t start a one or two-person agency that is just interested in creating ads,” he says. Advertising is about building brands, not just churning out ads. Hang in there and try to make a bigger impact in the larger ecosystem with your expertise,” he advises.