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The past year has forced agencies to look back at accepted approaches to business as usual, and to jettison those that don’t work. Too Many Dreams’ Stephen Jenkins examines what that means for talent, and why brands should welcome the changes.

It’s 2018 and I’m on a train back from Paris with a creative I took along with me for a new business pitch. The pitch was executed well, but it quickly became apparent that the prospect was something of a Walter Mitty type when it came to budgets. I sat there sipping a warm gin and tonic totting up the expenses for a wasted trip: two Eurostar tickets, two hotel rooms and a frankly extortionate dinner at an underwhelming bistro.

Fast forward two years. In the UK, we're in the midst of a third lockdown and in many ways our lives have never been more difficult or trying.

But when it comes to work, there has at least been a silver lining to this immense cloud. In one day – through the use of technology that’s now become an accepted part of how we all work - I conducted a new business pitch, caught up with a long-time partner and oversaw a fruitful brand identity workshop with a new client - based on the US East Coast. I was joined on the call by several team members from across the UK who added real value and demonstrated to my clients the depth of talent I’m lucky to have at my disposal. After a productive day, I was then able to switch off at five on-the-dot and join my family for dinner followed by film night.

For me, this is why the distributed agency model will outlast the ongoing pandemic. My agency has always been distributed, so we were at an advantage when Covid-19 hit, but even for firms that were forced to adopt remote working to stay in business, I think they’ll soon see the benefits - if they’ve not done so already. By breaking the link between geography and talent, outcomes are better for workers, agencies and clients.

If brands really want to engage with their audiences, they need creative teams that mirror their audience demographics. The distributed model enables this. Without having to hire people partly on the basis they’re able to commute to the office, agencies can cast their nets wider and bring on board team members from literally anywhere in the world, connecting with them via Zoom, Slack or whichever collaboration tools they’re into. That frees agencies to recruit people from a broader range of backgrounds, bringing in some welcome diversity.

Mediating the workforce of the future

There’s another reason why I think distributed agencies will prosper. In the economic fallout from the pandemic, there will inevitably be job losses at major agencies. Indeed, there have, sadly, already been cuts to all forms of marketing activity and it is impossible to know now when things might finally start to recover. Through these job losses, some people may retrain, but others will look to leverage their skills and passions by going freelance.

A boom in freelance workers will be great for brands. It will provide a ready source of talent that can be ‘dialled up’ as needed to support marketing peaks. The challenge for brands will be to effectively source and manage these relationships.

Distributed agencies are the answer to this challenge. Agencies can take on the work of vetting and managing relationships with a pool of trusted freelancers that they can then help their clients manage, bringing on the right people when they're needed and only for as long as they're needed. The agency of the future will provide a critical mediation layer between a new type of workforce and brands that are keen to optimise marketing through lean operations that can easily scale up when required.

Marketing professionals love their jobs - but none of us like unnecessary commuting, wasted or unproductive work trips and work/life imbalance. Covid-19 has given us all a taste of a different type of approach where we can work more flexibly and only meet in person when those meetings will make a difference – although, I must confess, I am looking forward to when that latter choice can be made again.

Agencies, for their part, will see the upside of reduced real-estate costs and being able to access a broader array of talent. And brands will see that the creative output of their agencies improves as they transform into the gatekeepers of the distributed workforce. It’s a model that we’ve thrived on at Too Many Dreams, and one I know our clients appreciate and value.

Stephen Jenkins, founder & managing director, Too Many Dreams