Does it work? Our new starter’s experience of the Perfect Storm model
It’s 3 months now since I made the leap, just a year into my agency career, to move away from the traditional model and instead join a small-but-mighty digital marketing team in a hybrid client services/project management role of Digital Producer. Having tried and tested the method, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect and talk about my experience.
I’ve been fortunate to experience a handful of different types of agencies in my short time through work experience, agency collaboration and in full-time roles. This insight was valuable, but I was often left frustrated by agencies internal limitations and poor processes which could obstruct or delay delivery for clients. That’s why when I came across Perfect Storm and Adam and Dave talked me through this better way and their own frustrations which led them to create the company, it all resonated and I was sold.
I’ll start with giving you some background on the ‘A Better Way’ approach and how I’d describe the model after using it in practice:
We are whatever our clients need us to be. Scopes are cultivated and teams are assembled based on what the client has asked for, not what our current resource and pre-existing capabilities can offer.
We remould our approach, not the client’s brief.
We can do this because we don’t have creatives or technical specialists on the payroll. Our resource comes in the form of a network of connections with experienced freelancers who are experts in their fields. We call upon them when we need them and switch them off when we don’t.
Now working with freelancers in itself isn’t a new concept and is something agencies already do, but it’s rarely done to this scale and quality. My reservations about this model when I first joined, and what I believe most people are curious about is how does it work in practice. It’s a sexy sounding idea but give me an example of how this concept is actually applied, how is it better for the client and, as a new employee my biggest concern, how does it impact the people using and executing it?
I mentioned this above but it’s definitely the aspect which I see clients benefit from the most. More often than not with an agency their interpretation of the brief may not always align with the clients and their approach/final output will largely be shaped by what their existing employees can do. For example, if your resource specialises in a particular content management system you may go out of your way to persuade the client that it’s the best one for them, even if they have specifically requested something different. Or if an agency does go out of their way to hire more talent for that brief, they are increasing their overheads and become dependent on the client.
I’ve seen it work in the refreshingly simple way of finding out what the client wants and being able to deliver exactly that. Personally, I like this because of the ‘blank canvas’ starting point each time and the challenge for us to customise that ‘All-star team’. As an employee it’s also allowed me to work for vastly different clients without being limited to a particular sector or specialisation. Yesterday I was knees deep in dog food (never thought i’d be say that sentence) at 9am discussing content management and omni-channel strategy for eCRM, social and web and by 1pm I was scribbling wireframe ideas on CBI’s new website for our designer who cringes every time I say: ‘So I just had this idea and drew something out for you if you want to look at the 13 photos I attached.’
I’m a self-confessed (minor) control freak when it comes to organisation. Projects can be difficult to manage as it is when there are multiple dependencies and stakeholders, so managing a number of partners sounded challenging. I was a big fan of the ‘go over to their desk and annoy them/bribe with chocolate until they give you an update’ approach with devs and designers and I knew at times I wouldn’t be able to do that and would need a different angle. I can’t afford to post a snickers to every partner we work with and I often find people aren’t always open to telling you where they live. Strange.
That being said, it was easier to adapt than I thought. The partners are grateful for the work and because we put a lot of trust and respect in them, they are respectful and diligent back when it comes to checking in. We also like to use a lot of seasoned professionals (that’s my polite way of saying over 35) and more often than not these men and women have been agency owners or senior staff and are incredibly competent when it comes to managing time and reporting back.
Working with freelancers improves project communication. I talk to the partners on my projects multiple times a day through different channels with instant messaging, calling, skyping. The majority still come in to our office, but when distance is in the way, we end up increasing communication and stay in touch constantly to overcompensate for the apparent barrier. This naturally helps project management because you always know everyone’s status and progress and catch potential issues much quicker.
Collaboration & Quality First
This overcompensation in communication within teams also means that the partners on the project are talking to each other and collaborating. It allows everyone to input in idea generation and development throughout the project life which leads to the cool concepts and ‘what if’s’ that really push quality of work. The frustration for client services in traditional models can be that you book in client work with little choice over the person who is assigned and that person may be disengaged and isolated from the project and client. Once their time is over you could find that, through no fault of their own, they haven’t captured the brief because they didn’t get that open communication with everyone who has touched that job and spoken to the client.
No egos! Just good work.
I know, designers having egos – it’s unheard of.
We work with partners who have a lot of experience and a high skill set. As an industry baby, it seemed nerve-wracking to work on a project that involves daily communication with an SEO Director, digital designer, UX specialist/previously an agency owner and an award winning front end developer. But our partners leave their egos at the door, nobody tries to call the shots, nobody is precious about their work in terms of our feedback and the nicest thing I have found is that they are open to anything and will happily do the smaller amend work too.
Transparency & Respect
The most fruitful learning curve for me has been seeing how to treat the people you work with. We don’t ask our partners to enter in to an agency environment and commit to 9-5 schedule during a project. We respect that they have chosen a different lifestyle for a reason, more often than not because of important commitments like family, childcare and work life balance. It’s about respecting this and being flexible. So far I have never been set back by this, I will still have a piece of work delivered to me and the client never suffers – it’s just a case of letting someone get their head down at 9pm if they choose instead of 9am in the morning. I’ve learnt that flexibility and allowing someone to curate their own work day is rewarded by loyalty and hard work from better engagement with the job.