Why Would Anyone Want a Full-Time Creative Job?
Agencies used to have a lot to offer fresh-faced creatives looking for a full-time gig in the industry. A decent salary was always a plus. Health insurance was great. Job security, sure. Creative office space, love it. Fully stocked kitchens and cold brew on tap, sign me up.
But to the next generation of creative talent who are entering the workforce under very different circumstances, those perks of full-time employment don't have the same shine, particularly when compared to the freelance life.
Gen Z can do the math. They can make way more money stringing together freelance gigs than an entry-level salary. They can see there's no shortage of work to be done, so the gigs will keep coming. Health insurance is more accessible now (for many). And all those office amenities aren't that appealing to a workforce that isn't that interested in going to an office.
And you know what, I support that kind of thinking. Because our industry needs freelancers. I know my agency wouldn't be the same without them. I'd certainly be up a creek without them. The math works for freelancers, and it works for us, too.
But the thing is, an agency can't survive on freelance alone. We need full-time creatives whom we can mentor, train and prepare to lead the next generation of creatives. We need people who are invested in our unique cultures, values and co-workers. Who else is going to run these shops in the future? (Don't say DALL-E 2.)
So here's my pitch to all the Gen Z creatives out there: The same things agencies need you for, you're going to need, too. Mentorship, training, culture, community.
But more to the point, my pitch to all the agency leaders out there: You'd better make sure you're able to offer those things.
Don't get me wrong, all the other stuff like benefits, equitable compensation and kitchen snacks are still great—but they're table stakes. To show Gen Z creatives that a staff life is the best life, agencies need to make very clear what those young creatives stand to gain professionally from joining your ranks, and what your plans are to help them achieve that.
In my experience, this actually requires a lot of investment and intention, even if the gains I'm talking about sound intrinsic.
Take mentorship. When I was starting out as a creative, the traditional agency approach to mentorship was basically one of osmosis: Keep doing work your creative directors like, watch them do their magic, and one day you'll be a creative director, too.
But there's way more to being an effective creative leader than being good at the work, and only so much you can learn by sitting in the room while CDs talk. I mean, we don't even sit in rooms anymore.
So agencies need to make plans about how they'll mentor, and make clear to young creatives what their career path will look like. We also know they want this. A LinkedIn survey found that 40 percent of young workers would accept a 5 percent pay cut to take a position that offered career growth opportunities. Imagine how many would accept if we didn't cut their pay!
Another thing young creatives want that they believe only a freelance life can provide: flexibility. Life/work balance has always been important, but to a generation of talent who've spent their late college and early career working from wherever they take their laptop, an unhealthy life/work balance is a deal-breaker.
Again, agencies can and should put policies in place to make that deal. Requiring few or no days in an office works, but so does being creative about days off or working hours. Consider sabbatical opportunities after several years of employment. Agencies have the ability to provide all of their employees—not just the young ones—much of the life/work balance that the freelance world typically enjoys. (And I should know: Our agency is doing all of the above.)
Here's the best part: When agencies become places where young creatives want to stay, and they receive mentorship, they contribute to the culture, they build the community, they grow their career—the work is better.
The freelance life misses out on that—the great work that comes from working with a trusted team. When you have that, it's good for portfolios, good for agency reels, and good for *gasp* our clients.
That math adds up, too.