Tag Archives: freelancers

Who’s on First? Advertisers Want to Know

1 May

agency freelancersAd Age recently published the results of discussions it conducted among agency executives, freelancers and staffing companies with regard to the growth in agency utilization of freelance talent.   If you’re an advertiser their findings may serve as a wake-up call for you.

First and foremost, we understand the fast-paced nature of the advertising marketplace and the important role that variable labor plays in helping agencies meet short-term labor demands.  That is not the issue.  What is of concern is the growing reliance on independent contractors versus permanent staffers by ad agency executives.  Ad Age coined the term “permalancers” to reflect this trend of engaging freelancers for extended periods of time, in excess of 100 days.

Why the concern?  Consider Ad Age’s primary conclusion on their investigation into this practice, that agencies “are not attracting and managing freelancers appropriately.”  This perspective is supported by an executive of Redscout Ventures a division of MDC who was quoted in the Ad Age article stating that; “our current system of sourcing freelancers is incredibly inefficient.”   Sourcing and managing of freelance talent aside, there are numerous risks and costs to an advertiser that are often not transparent.  For example, do advertisers even know which agency representatives serving on their account are permanent staffers or freelancers?  Is there an established procedure that defines how the advertiser is being billed for freelance time (i.e. pass through cost or incorporated into agency fee/ direct labor cost calculations)?  What is the impact on agency time-of-staff investment tied to the learning curve associated with rotating in freelance help?  Does this practice impact the quality of the work or the level of re-dos?

At Advertising Audit & Risk Management we conduct both contract compliance audits and agency fee reconciliations which consistently highlight the financial impact and risks confronting advertisers regarding the lack of controls and limited transparency around an agency’s use of freelance talent.   Audit findings have identified risks ranging from intellectual property ownership to violations of the non-compete clause to inadequate time tracking of freelance talent.  Unbridled, an agency’s use of freelance talent shifts the legal and financial risks associated with the advertising industry’s lack of sufficient controls in this area from the agency to the advertiser.

There are mechanisms which an advertiser can implement to mitigate this risk without affecting their agency partners’ ability to tap into variable talent pools to supplement the account team if and when needed.  Advertisers interested in learning more about how to assess the prevalence of the use of freelance talent by their agencies and what can be done to introduce the requisite protections can contact Don Parsons, Principal at AARM for a complimentary consultation at; dparsons@aarmusa.com.  For more on this issue, read the article; “Freelancers’ Stock Rises on Madison Avenue” in Ad Age.

Time Keeps Ticking… 3 Common Agency Time-of-Staff Reconciliation Errors

23 Apr

It has been several decades since the move away from full-service agency relationships where advertisers compensated their partners on a straight commission basis, to the use of specialized marketing agencies compensated on a direct labor or fee basis.  However, in spite of the elapsed time, advertisers may still not be optimizing their agency fee investments.

Over the course of our timekeeping system and fee reconciliation audit work we frequently come across vagaries and oversights that hinder an advertiser’s ability to leverage its investment in agency compensation.  This is frequently compounded by the fact that there is little transparency into the accuracy of an agency’s time reporting vis-à-vis its timekeeping system.

The three most common errors that our audits uncover are as follows:

  1. Lack of a proper agency staffing plan incorporated into client-agency agreements.  A proper staffing plan should identify annual full-time equivalent hours, the individual, their position, the pledged utilization level and the billing rate or departmental cost to be utilized to calculate and reconcile agency fees.
  2. While many client-agency agreements set forth processes for monthly time-of-staff reporting and quarterly or annual reconciliation reviews, few advertisers receive and or review these reports or reconcile fees to the agency’s time-of-staff investment.  Further, it is rare that the advertiser has previously conducted an independent third-party review over the accuracy or validity of an agency’s time reporting.
  3. No definitive contractual approach for how an agency will report on and or bill for freelance or independent contract talent.

A lack of clarity and controls in this area results in transparency gaps and billing oversights.  Absent independent verification of agency time reporting, discrepancies are not transparent to the advertiser.  And, absent accurate historical information, the problem is perpetuated when future fee levels are based on inaccurate historical time and cost assumptions.

Clear definition, process and control will mitigate significant economic risks for both the advertiser and agency.  This is also why a comprehensive staffing plan is essential to the fee / time-of-staff reconciliation process.  In the words of William Penn:

“Time is what we want most, but… what we use worst.”

Armed with accurate costing and utilization information, both the Advertiser and Agency will be able to build on their joint efforts in fostering a strong partnership based on a fair underlying compensation structure.

As a complimentary offer, and to talk through agency fee investment best control practices, please contact Don Parsons, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management, at dparsons@aarmusa.com.

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