The advertising industry has been outsourcing for decades. Freelancers are woven into our daily fabric. We use copywriters to write website copy and gun-slinging art directors to beef up new business pitch concepts. In the past few years advertising agencies have gone beyond the traditional freelancer to add technologists and digital service firms to work in the background to make us look like sharp database, mobile and social media experts.
Our outsourcing options have grown exponentially through the use of digital tools. We now have easier access to more talent marketplaces which have also resulted in new threats to the advertising agency model itself.
There is the power of emerging market labor: Ogilvy, Wieden+Kennedy and Sapient all have offices in India that tap into the sub-continent’s skilled lower cost talent. Most multinational ad agencies also use into their vast systems to find talent in other lower cost countries. According to Firstpost, “Group FMG produces video, print, digital and mobile ads and has more than half its employees based in India. “We are applying all the clichés of Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” to the advertising world,” Aditya Sharma, co-founder and chief business development officer at Group FMG. And, why not? The latest rounds of Clios have been won by art directors in far away lands.
Interest in crowdsourcing is on a growth spurt, see Google’s trend line for the term “crowdsourcing” on the left, and has become a new freelance agency model. Victors & Spoils is known for its use of distributed problem solving to create advertising campaigns for blue chip clients like Axe, General Mills, Harley-Davidson and Levis. For sure, despite the benefits from having a more open market, freelancers have had issues with this model. However, the efficiency of freelance crowdsourcing works for clients. I suspect that Victors & Spoils is finding the middle ground.
Online freelance markets are booming. Elance reported 345,000 new freelancers and 826,000 jobs posted in 2012. Behance reported serious growth last May when they received an infusion of VC capital. According to their blog, “Users’ projects have received over 1 billion views, and over 75 million views in just the past 30 day. Behance now showcases more than 2 million creative projects – after passing our first 1 million-project milestone just eight months ago.” I can imagine that many agencies are posting projects in this heavily trafficked marketplace.
The new world of freelance services may become one of the tools that agencies use to resolve the social media beast – social media authorship and management is, to put it mildly, labor-intensive. I have been using an ODesk freelancer in the Philippines to assist me with pinning “every advertising agency” website to my Pinterest agency site. In this case, I have a simple task that can be easily managed. In just a couple of weeks he has efficiently pined over 1,000 ad and digital agency websites. This has freed up my time to write mini-website reviews.
On the SEO side, I have worked with a search engine marketing company based in Budapest that uses excellent English speaking writers across the globe to help their clients write guest posts.
The opportunities for agencies to leverage the flat-earth marketplace of freelance services are clear. Given the current and expanding outsourcing options, agencies need to continually explore how the Internet has dramatically expanded their freelance network, talent base, technology resources and can lower the costs of doing business.
On the other hand, many of these new services pose a significant threat. Just as the Victors & Spoils model is often criticized (feared?), we need to keep up with and continually review new Internet-powered services because they represent a growing form of competition. Just like you, savvy clients can directly outsource their work to India, Behance and 99 Designs too.