Freelance marketers can be valuable additions to a core staff as long as
rights and obligations are quite clear on both sides, writes Cathy Bond
There’s a new breed of marketer on the loose - the freelancer.
Troubleshooter, creative thinker, database cruncher or just an extra
pair of experienced hands. And cheaper than John Harvey-Jones.
They might just be between jobs, or deliberately project hopping in both
marketing agencies and client companies in search of a fresh challenge
and a new environment. Demand for executives who can hit the ground
running - and disappear when they are no longer needed - is growing
fast, say the recruitment agencies.
These expendable experts are no longer brought in only to cope with
traditional crises, such as when key managers are sick, go on holiday or
have babies. A simple upturn in business can pose big problems for
slimmed-down organisations which are reluctant to bump up overheads by
adding permanent staff.
The no-strings freelancer, who can be signed up and waved away at will,
seems an ideal option - after all, the advertising world has been awash
with mobile talent for years - but Mary Budd, the IPA’s employment
adviser, warns there are hidden dangers.
The IPA has recently published Portfolio People. Altough written for ad
agencies, it is a guide to all companies which rely increasingly on non-
permanent staff to help run their businesses. It pulls apart the various
working relationships - full-time, part-time, short-term contract and so
on - to uncover the potential legal pitfalls for employers. Companies
should not be blinded by the benefits of the freelance system, which
seem tailor-made for organisations and agencies which have pared
marketing functions to the bare essentials, she says.
‘A freelance worker can be an advantage. It can mean being able to hire
the best, which in the longer term the company couldn’t afford,’ she
explains. ‘If there’s a special project that needs some wellie, hiring
in means there’s no need to cobble together a job for the rest of the
‘Companies might need expertise in the short term, but not want to spend
money on a consultancy,’ says Claire Adam, managing director of Stopgap
Marketing, which was set up three years ago to handle freelance
placements in the advertising and marketing sector. ‘It’s much more
cost-effective to have a marketing manager or account handler in-house.’
According to Sarah Owens, managing director of Direct Recruitment, sheer
pressure of work is forcing executives in the marketing services sector
to opt for a freelance lifestyle. ‘More people are coming into the pool
because they are disillusioned with the way in which they are expected
to work,’ she adds.
The problem is that freelance work is by definition flexible - which is
fine, unless written contracts get the same casual treatment. Then it
begins to look rather shaky in legal terms. Nor is there a standard
method of remuneration. Most freelancers invoice employers direct, but
they could also be paid through an agency, or even appear on employers’
According to Budd, there are several areas which employers of
freelancers need to watch very carefully:
* The nature of the contract - ‘This can change from day to day, without
ever being written down.’ A freelancer originally contracted to complete
a short-term contract, but who stays on in an ad-hoc role because there
is more work to be done, could in effect become an employee - able to
claim redundancy rights and holiday pay, for example. The employer could
also be hit for back-dated PAYE and NI contributions. And this is just
one of a range of possible contractual misunderstandings.
Establish the contract at the outset. If the situation changes, draw up
a new one. If the work becomes long-term, put a time limit on it, even
if the contract has to be renewed.
* Copyright - ‘Employers just don’t take this seriously enough,’ argues
Budd. Companies should know, but often forget, that copyright
automatically belongs to the creator unless it is assigned otherwise, in
writing. Moral rights, which control how a property can be used, need to
be waived as well if a company is to have the freedom to use the work of
* The psychological contract - ‘Freelancers are in the organisation, and
yet not part of it.’ They can’t be expected to have the same level of
commitment to employers. Their remit is here and now and this lack of
involvement in strategic planning can be frustrating. The payback is a
higher rate of pay than their corporate colleagues, but this can lead to
friction in the workplace. Temporary staff need people management, too.
* Training - ‘You could end up with a core, skilled workforce and
peripheral, but essential longer-term freelancers who are getting
gradually less skilled.’ Not enough companies have adequate training
systems in place for their own staff, so it’s not surprising that
freelancers are a low priority. ‘If you leave your freelancer to sink or
swim,’ says Budd, ‘he or she may well sink.’
* Portfolio People is available from the IPA (0171 235 7020), price
Jane and Paula are marketing executives working on the same product
range. Jane is a an employee, Paula is a freelance.
The perks that come with Jane’s job are pretty good - a car, health
insurance, a pension scheme, regular appraisals and training when she
She thinks Paula, who gets more money, is paid too much for doing the
same job. But Paula has no career path, must pay her own pension
contributions and gets no training. She thinks Jane has a cushy number.
Making them work as a team is no easy matter.
A sales promotion company needs help with the creative work for a blue-
It’s a big budget and the copyright is, of course, assigned to the
client. A freelancer comes up with the goods, and everyone is delighted.
But, as the client prepares to roll out the campaign across Europe, the
agency and freelance fall out. ‘Hold on,’ says the freelancer, ‘it’s my
copyright.’ The agency has assigned something it doesn’t own and the
client is furious.