Creative Staffing Is Not On Our Side

As I continue designing and marketing myself in the creative industry as an Art Director, I can’t help but wonder whose side all these creative staffing firms are on. In a down economy, with an abundance of mediocre and inexpensive freelance creative talent, I’m feeling less and less like they’re on mine.

Let’s begin a few years back just before our economy was on the verge of collapsing. At the time, agencies throughout the country were hiring at an unprecedented rate. Business was booming and hiring reflected that. Agencies were confident and able to focus on healthy growth that involved a direct hiring and recruiting process. Hopes were high, budgets were high, and agencies generally felt confident in bringing on the talent they needed, directly.

Fast forward to the present. With a down economy and strapped budgets, agencies are relying on staffing firms for short-term, low cost, creative labor. The staffing firms are becoming more aggressive with their prospects and existing clients, desperate for contracts — any contracts. They don’t seem to care about the relationship factor anymore. I’ve been asked to work on some of the most outrageous projects for little or no pay when you add up all the time I wasn’t compensated for dealing with logistics and getting firms to explain very unclear requirements. I recently spoke with a representative from a local staffing firm. As soon as I picked up the phone she said: “I have found the perfect opportunity for you Nick!” “Oh yeah, what is it?!” I responded. “It’s a business card design for a client of ours, it’s a 5 hour opportunity for $14/hr!” I didn’t even have the patience to respond, I simply hung up the phone.

Never before have I seen so many staffing agencies on the prowl, desperate for anything that smells like a candidate. From a mom and pop boutique client to the Arc’s and Ogilvy’s. Today, creative staffing firms are very pushy and desperate in picking up any type of opportunity for creatives. This would be good if the projects they had actually paid well or helped a creative’s long-term growth, but that’s rarely the case. Staffing is a cold, hard, nickel and dime machine and the problems start to leak and spill out, the more you think about it.

At the end of the day, a modern creative staffing firm’s primary objective and mission is to have billable arrangements between an agency and an employee. That’s it. It’s simply a numbers game. Value and quality have been completely removed from the equation.

I believe that agencies are making a huge mistake by assuming that all their talent needs must be channeled through a 3rd party like a staffing firm. It’s resulting in agencies and firms readjusting their priorities and overall goals, and settling for less by bringing on temporary employment and short term contracts. This in turn decreases the amount of full-time opportunities available for those who can’t afford anything less. This is a large point most people aren’t realizing. These small temp and contract opportunities are eating up what a real opportunity should look like between you and a client. Staffing firms are making it more difficult for individuals to find what they are truly seeking, because of the sloppy and choppy aspects of what I’m discussing. However, I’m not naive. I understand that this sort of hiring is necessary when a client has a fixed budget a short-term project, or needs to ramp up resources temporarily to meet a deadline, but it’s starting to become the rule, not the exception.

Due to this priority shif, the sort of direct, one-on-one client relationships that I prefer seem to hold very little value compared to quick, cheap and dirty labor. The creative’s role is becoming more of a vendor to vendor relationship at best, and the old way of personal and meaningful relationship building with your clients seem to less of an importance to a lot of people. This is a damn shame.

Agencies need to wake up and work towards bringing value and quality back to the equation by working to hire creatives directly and internally and not just focusing on the bottom line, chewing and spitting out mediocrity after a few weeks on a project. There are countless, highly talented creatives out here working harder than ever trying to make a mark in an industry that is saturated with cheap, low cost labor from these staffing agencies. The prospect of this changing anytime soon seems bleak with the ubiquity of creative staffing firms constantly pushing for the lowest common denominator.

— Nick Petticrew

Nick is a creative consultant, the principal of Chicago-based design firm Petticrew and Friends and a contributing editor here at Arck. He’s been developing successful communication products all over the country. His past experience includes Nationwide Insurance, AT&T, P&G, Nestle, CLEAR, Newcardio and more.

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