Sam Howard’s top tips for whether to go with a freelancer or an agency.
Recently I turned down a brief. Even my 11 year old questioned the sanity of that one, “Have you seen my Christmas list?” he queried.
Thing is, although the brief specified a freelancer it was for one that had specialist knowledge of everything basically – from travel to technology, from business to design, from gaming to food and a fair few other categories for good measure.
I’m not exactly a one trick pony but this had AGENCY stamped all over it. I recommended a favourite one and waved bye bye to it. I’m as good as my last job and I didn’t see how I could shine at that one. Besides what’s the point of spending 100 hours bringing in results that I quoted I could do in ten?
So if you’re thinking your comms might need a boost from some professional help and your budget is borderline here’s five things to consider when deciding if a freelancer or an agency is in the best position to help:
1) Budget: is the first factor that most people consider. Freelancers should be charging about half their agency rate. “Bargain!” I hear you yip, but it’s not that simple… Say you hire a senior freelancer who is at account director level or above, do bear in mind that day rate is fixed whatever the task, so yes amazing value for money when it comes to strategy and guidance, good value for media outreach and creating content, but when it comes to sourcing coverage, building media lists, feature research, reporting tools etc, not so much. In an agency, a junior or intern would be tasked with such mundane and time consuming activities, and could charge accordingly. So if you have an admin heavy/consultancy light brief, you might be better with an agency. News heavy accounts (e.g. a release a week) also qualify for this model as they fit better into an agency ‘machine’.
2) Expertise: So if you need lots of different sectors covered off as described above, 100s of media outlets, it’s agency all the way, if you need integrated services, again an agency is often a smart choice although most freelancers have a trusted network they partner up with. But if you want access to senior level support or a fair amount of hand holding again a freelancer might be a better fit as account directors can be pretty thinly spread in a busy agency across six accounts or more. So your monthly retainer may only allows for a day – to half a day of precious ‘AD’ time.
3) Capacity: Everyone knows it’s feast or famine for freelancers, but feast for a freelancer might not be a banquet for you, the client. Be sure to have a good understanding of your chosen freelancer’s workload and exactly how many concurrent clients they have. It maybe their eyes are bigger than their hands on abilities. This is less of a problem for agencies who have a bigger pool of staff and of course can hire should work levels remain consistently high.
4) Best practice: A good agency continues to hone and develop best practice, the opportunity to learn in an agency is one of the most compelling reason to work there. A freelancer from ‘birth’ will not have had the same exposure and will have had a different learning experience, They may have developed some shabby habits and I’m not just talking about dress code. If you are going to work with a freelancer, check their pedigree and make sure they have a good few years agency or established in- house experience that they can bring to the table with them. Ask some journalists what they think.
5) Payment terms: And finally if you know your company is somewhat backward at coming forward when it comes to settling its bills, again go to an agency where the two account departments can fight it out between themselves leaving your client relationship cosy. Working directly with a near hysterical, half-starved freelancer who hasn’t been paid for 100 days plus is not going to necessarily get you the kind of exposure you had in mind. Think Sideshow Bob on Twitter.
Whoever you chose to partner with for your comms, go in with a glad heart and some real commitment, so that 2012 is a great year for you both.