Episode 4

Dan de Lord: The New Agency Workforce Model

Dan De Lord discusses the increasing value of an external workforce within the Agency world and why retaining top freelance talent is now an imperative.

June 19, 2024

Podcast transcript

Casey [00:00:00:05 - 00:00:22:23]

Hello, everyone. I'm Casey, your host, and I'm super excited about the guest we have today, Dan de Lord. He is a workforce leader who has been working within the agency space for 16 or so years. Thinking about workforce, innovation, the contingent workforce, all kinds of stuff. And we're going to dive into it today. So without further ado, welcome, Dan.

Dan de Lord [00:00:22:26 - 00:00:35:08]

Thank you, Casey. We were talking off line before around how aging that makes age. That makes me feel for that introduction, but I still appreciate it.

Casey [00:00:35:10 - 00:01:00:13]

Yeah, I know it's it's crazy how the time flies, especially since COVID. I feel like the last few years just went by. So. And yeah, it's like a blink. But yeah, it's so great to have you here today. I'm super excited to, to chat, but let's just start with a bit of an introduction on you. So can you just tell me a bit about your experience in the agency world and with kind of workforce innovation?

Dan de Lord [00:01:00:16 - 00:01:40:29]

I was just as I've always been in agencies, either service agencies or creative agencies, basically recently I learned talent acquisition strategy for RJ, the Global Creative Innovation Company. And so they spent defining what we wanted to do, how we were going to do it across talent, capability and grace, including things like project team scaling, organization, design, succession planning, and generally trying to deliver world class talent at the right point in time, not in a just in time delivery way.

Casey [00:01:41:01 - 00:02:08:22]

Awesome. Well, let's dive into that a little bit about the like intelligence innovation piece within the agency world. So broadly, I guess at the minute kind of in the current climate, what do you see? External workers, freelancers, contractors? What do you see role do you see them playing? It's changed based on like everything that's happened in the recent years with COVID and now with kind of this economic downturn.

We're looking at.

Dan de Lord [00:02:12:04 - 00:02:15:13]

In terms of the importance of freelancers?

Casey [00:02:15:16 - 00:02:41:17]

Yeah, the importance of freelancers. The freelance world generally, like have you noticed there be kind of like a surge in people going that direction just based on kind of experiences they've had maybe with layoffs or just kind of wanting to take control or maintain control and maybe coming out of this like flexible remote setup. And then, you know, companies now kind of a little bit some companies changing their tune.

I know you were at RGA and they had a really flexible approach to kind of distributed creativity, But it seems that a lot of companies are kind of going a bit back on that. So have yeah, have you kind of noticed any shifts within the space?

Dan de Lord [00:02:56:13 - 00:03:33:25]

There's a lot of shifts for it's digressive at the moment. I think. So when I talked about an approach to freelance as in how you would start a project, so you would probably have 20%, 25% flex in your project. And then that was scaled out from an organizational perspective as well. And I think, as you said, there have been huge amounts of macro pressures on that over the years and that kind of approach has changed.

You know, I think the way I freelance was always important is still is still valid to deal with. I see issues or bringing in specialized capability, particularly in changeable businesses like agencies. That's never going to go away and to create some pool of external bench. There's it. You know, we talk about agencies, we talk about also other service businesses and the difference in multiples on salaries between marketing service businesses and consulting service businesses is probably like two or three times the difference.

So being able to run an internal bench as you kind of in a consultancy basis and not being able to do that in an agency business and having to work in different ways. I think the two change that's happened over the last few years is around unlocking talent everywhere and building distributed teams. That's only a good thing in terms of the diversity of perspective that you can bring in and it also means that it also talks to the fact that not all of the best talent is in permanent jobs.

They don't have to be. They can be consultants, they can be career freelancers. They can choose much more out when they work. But from the organizational side, it gives you that commercial flexibility to have freelance, particularly in these uncertain times of forecasting. You know, the very little market or investor or client confidence at the moment. So being able to change, dial up and dial down how you structure your business and how you structure a workforce is really important.

And as you said, there's a huge amount of talent, new talent coming into the market with freelance market, with the layoffs you've been happening recently, but many of these people will be their first time freelancing and this it's a new world and they will need support from organizations and both that they're working with and that being supported by you, how to navigate that in the best way.

Casey [00:05:53:01 - 00:06:23:11]

Yeah, that that makes sense. And I feel like yeah, agencies are one of the, the spaces I feel like that's been leveraging this freelance network in this external workforce for a long time. They've always been kind of like tapping into it, but it seems that there's even more of that now, just given, like you say, people are kind of turning to become like career freelancers or, you know, new, different skillsets are kind of coming in to work in that way because they want more control.

And we you know, we've been talking to some of the freelancers that we work with and or that our clients work with. And just to understand a bit about like, you know, how did they choose who they work with sometimes, you know, in their hands and, and the you know, this is really smart, but also they have a lot of choice.

And what's interesting is, you know, even though this freelance workforce is growing, I think a lot of companies still struggle to create strategies. If you will, from like how to deal with it and see them just as like this last resort and, you know, other resources, like more people and and so yeah, yes, the booking restriction that's like come out of that that I that I've been seeing is kind of this idea of freelancer and or you build a network, a strong network of people that you know you can recruit that you know want to work with again and again.

But it's it takes a lot of work to like create those relationships and ensure that you keep them within your talent pool. So from your perspective, like what should agencies be doing to ensure they can, you know, retain, if you will, these people and, you know, build these strong relationships, ensuring they have this super strong kind of like super force of a freelancers on their bench when they need them.

Dan de Lord [00:07:41:28 - 00:08:11:25]

Well, I agree with you. The freelance now looks very different to freelance, let's say 16 years ago when when I was starting, I remember having clients. At that point we would put all of their freelancers in the basement with no windows, and there was a very kind of like as an them divide, there was a kind of a hierarchical structure rather than a mutual appreciation of what each side was bringing to that.

So I think it's it's really key for organizations to be able to retain or rehire talent efficiently. I was on a webinar this week. It came out that the average US enterprise wastes $4.5 million in productivity by failing to preserve and share knowledge. And a huge amount of knowledge in agency business is based around people who know what they're doing and what their role is, how they work together, how you form teams in collapse, teams, and I think how you understand people skills and bring those together.

So having a way to run your freelance operation that isn't just kind of a Whac-A-Mole approach of there is a reactive needs and we need to deal with that. But as in, it is a strategic arm of your workforce planning that is offers you a way to work in different ways and builds that cumulative intelligence of that part of your workforce.

So every time you're not starting from scratch, you are always building on it and you can then continue to move quickly or with agility, which is a key advantage of working with freelancers at the start. So I think if you don't have that set up to begin with, it makes that process of retaining and rehiring freelance talent all the more difficult and particularly battering people, then go off into the market again after working with you and they essentially become advocates for you or potentially detractors for your brand.

So every interaction, whether it might seem small from a company perspective in terms of their annual plan or their five year plan still has an impact on the people experience, on your employer brand, on your ability to create the right workforce. In the next point in time, you need to do a.

Casey [00:10:33:08 - 00:10:54:25]

Yeah, it's it's interesting and I feel like there's a few different factors that come into play. Like one is creating relationships and like the basement thing is so real, isn't it? I feel like as well, when I first started working, that was like it was almost like sending people into like the supply closet or Thank you. It's finding like a last resort.

That's, that was. Yeah, totally separate. But yeah we've got, we've come so far and I think, you know, there's still work to be done and both on like educating people like what you know, what the future of the workforce is. And it isn't just, you know, having a traditional or maybe full time permanent group and then a separate, you know, temporary group, it's like the workforce is going to look very varied and understanding how to deal with that from relationships or information sharing or all of those things is is key.

And then I think there is, you know, another part of this which is like maybe this like direct sourcing conversation that's become very big in the industry, which is how do you maintain visibility and control within an organization to understand who you worked with before? And even with like all the technology we have, it seems like this is something companies still are like having incredible difficulty doing and meaning maintaining.

So like if you had the experience with that or maybe when you were at RGA, like how did you guys like focus on gaining control and visibility and creating a more like seamless approach for all teams to kind of access the good talent or the specialized in-demand skill sets that you needed? Or was that something you guys also struggled with?

Dan de Lord [00:12:17:25 - 00:12:50:02]

Well, again, first of all, I totally agree with you. That's where we are definitely moving to a more diversified way of engaging with organizations and also operating models, as we talked about earlier. So in terms of talent, it's rather than what is that form of employment, The question is who is the best person for the job? And I totally believe that there will be more freelance volume and more freelance opportunity.

On the back of that. There was an Upwork survey at the end of last year which identified that nearly 60% of hiring managers that use freelance in their organizations anticipated using the increased volume of freelance during the year. So I think if you if you're an organization that is comfortable in that space and in looking at the future of work through that lens, then there is only one direction that usually more of using me more intensely.

And I think having the tools to do that is is a major challenge. When I started the OSI, there was nothing essentially there was there was a mentality, people in the talent team and it was our inboxes and people's heads and that's how staff ran. And we managed or we managed to get to a point of I'm much more systemized approach, much more collaborative sharing across geographies.

But there isn't one system that does everything. And I think, you know, we we were lucky enough to work with some and scale out across India and back. I'm but there is still always more that goes around and so in terms of talent operation so how do those systems integrate how do you automatic that so that there is you're not just like adding capability here but increasing the manual nature of what you're doing with systems that don't talk to each other.

And I think that's the the next gap that the hopefully will be closed from a globalized workforce perspective is how that becomes There's less friction in that process. It certainly doesn't exist in the kind of permanent engagement that my employer records, stuff that that was very clunky. It is starting to get there. We freelance and I hope over the next year or two years we get to the point of being able to pay into any market, into any currency.

It runs on.

Casey [00:15:53:06 - 00:16:17:27]

Yeah, I'm glad you brought up compliance. I feel like that's such a big part of this too. Even just in a market like the UK with IR35 or the U.S. has similar tax laws that are creating a lot of swirl and confusion for businesses and the contractors. How do you think that impact, like the way a company or an agency approaches those things?

Like how do you think that impacts the relationship they have with their external workforce? Like, have you seen that like in real life, you know, impacts either how they hire people, are hiring people or, you know, yeah, giving them a bad experience through misclassification or yeah. What is your experience been like within that space?

Dan de Lord [00:16:40:21 - 00:17:14:21]

Well, I think that some you know, we talk about the kind of operational side of it. My view on that is that the excellence on the operational songs could almost be invisible, like you shouldn't being compliant or being paid on time or, you know, making sure that your contract is is fit for the market, that that should all be something that just happens quite seamlessly.

And that's why it's important to work with the right tools partners so that that does you're not leading with that. What you're leading is with where's the best talent is the right person for this job and how can we work together and in a way that feels exciting and feels engaging. And I think it's there's the such there's even more, I guess, aggression, but there's kind of incentives from agency perspectives at the moment.

You know, I look at the holding companies not not just particularly looking at the holding companies. I've had the experience and they're much more moving to away from revenue gross margin growth. So that means that your as well as looking to access the best talent around the world, you also looking to access talent and different passwords. So in your your sense of a sense as you ACOs in markets in the time or in Africa or different parts of Europe become increasingly more important.

And, you know, I think we're seeing it agencies we talked about kind of with freelancers empowering staff. There was a kind of hierarchy before and traditionally in agencies there was a hierarchy. In terms of the office. I think you're moving away from that now that every well, firstly, I think we're moving to a country based model for agencies.

It's less around organizing around the city and more around, you know, organizing around the UK or the U.S. is broadening. Is the where, you know, within that there's democratization of different locations in your agency. But each has a role to play. Each is valuable and each can contribute great talent to that. I'm I'm not sure that I answered all of your question, but.

Casey [00:19:25:12 - 00:19:44:09]

No, I mean it. But it's all it's all really triggering, isn't it? It's like we live in this globalized world in so many ways. I think we we learned a lot in last year. You don't necessarily need to be in person. You can work with people anywhere and you can access skill sets that you couldn't before if you lean into that mean.

But then there's all of this like regulation and compliance that can get in the way. And it's such a shame, like we shouldn't be letting that type of admin stop us from, you know, producing the best work. And I think especially within a creative industry, right, like you often have clients that need things in multiple languages or, you know, need input from different, yeah, different markets and the fact that like we like within the past or even currently are like limited by, you know, whether it's like Brexit laws or tax laws or even just like fundamentally complicated payment terms just feels like a little bit arbitrary.

But I feel like it actually is a real challenge that is kind of stopping the move some of that innovation from from coming to light. So yeah, I think it's I think it's something that, you know, it's definitely top of mind for. I think the industry right now and yeah, I think it's something we need to we need to solve and we need to solve quickly.

Dan de Lord [00:20:52:06 - 00:21:18:24]

But I think you, you're, you're totally right because the more time that you put in to that sort of granular operation, the less time you get to put into creating communities, creating experiences, creating a sense of purpose, which you look at the permanent sides of engaging in the business. Those are all the things that are so front of mind at the moment.

You know, much more loans. I'm thinking around personal development. I'm sure that even as advocates and you know, I'm I'm very aware from having done that over multiple markets of the distinctions that you have to have between a freelance workforce and the permanent workforce. But it's not around offering benefits to the freelance workforce. But how do you facilitate a benefit for the right involvement in the right kind of environment?

So, you know, I think I hope that there there is progress on the compliance piece because I think the more interesting questions around like what's the mean or someone's to be part of your freelance network and what does that entitle them to, How do they feel about it. I'm and the still even within all of the regulation that happens, there's still a whole bunch of stuff that you can do.

And I think that will help organizations stand out. So the Freelancers is a really practical mechanism. It's part of their overall work will strategy and means that it's people want to be a part of their business in a freelance capacity.

Casey [00:22:44:12 - 00:23:05:29]

Yeah, absolutely. Well, yeah, I guess why we're talking about these kind of things we want to see happen in the future. Like what are some of your predictions for this space? Like what are you hoping to see happen in the next few years And, and maybe what are you. Yeah, like, excited? Like what trends are you kind of excited about that are already happening.

Yeah. Within the agency space and just generally like the workforce base.

Dan de Lord [00:23:11:16 - 00:23:50:06]

Well I think it's this sort of model is definitely here to stay. Look RJ we well it kind of came out of pandemic of and the kind of the proposition so you people during that point was you to gear and make sure you were taking care of yourself working in a way that works for you. I'm part of that was working where you need to work and that has evolved now into a more symbiotic approach that the company's taking around the distributed creativity model.

And it in fact is in a whole bunch of the stuff that we've been talking about earlier around access and talent. I'm moving to country models. I'm looking in price points. So I think I think agencies want to embrace this model. And I think as capabilities become more globalized, you know, you have the best people in brand design, in organization won't be just because they're all in the New York office.

They'll be spread around. But, you know, they will have an identity, a community as the brand is like a relative within your organization. And there's a whole bunch of stuff that goes into that around. Again, how do you create a sense of identity within is distributed organization or distributed unit? How would you rate the right communication cadence, like how you just But I, I think from a company perspective, a lot of hard to say and I think you're starting to see countries leading to that I'm my wife Spanish so Spain have just released the digital nomad visa and you know in other countries who has more flexible approaches to allowing people to come and work

and contribute to the economy for a period of time. And that's particularly around digital talent or kind of collaborative design talent. So I think from, you know, there's a desire from an individual level, there is you know, it's becoming part of the operating model for companies, and countries are starting to kind of put in place those mechanisms know, help support that.

Casey [00:25:38:26 - 00:26:02:13]

Yeah, it's exciting and it's thanks so much And to just climb out of the next gig list and potentially we'll get to a place where we don't even use workforce. Is that different? Just different elements of one big, you know one big workforce all kind of hopefully working towards the same goal. So yeah, I'm certainly excited to watch it, especially within the agency space.

They think they often that, you know, that industry really leads the way when it comes to like leveraging this talent pool. And it's going to be it's going to be cool to see how it all comes to fruition. But we are out of time. So I just want to wrap up by asking. I always like to ask my guests a few just more fun questions so we can get to know you a bit.

So the first one is just like a bit leaning into the technology side. Is there like one app or maybe it's a website or something that you could look without and it doesn't necessarily have to be work related. But yeah, like what's your kind of favorite piece of technology that you are? Yeah, you would be super sad if anyone.

Dan de Lord [00:26:51:22 - 00:27:30:07]

This is really boring, but I'm, I'm not I couldn't really live without my my calendar app. I organize my life through that. And that's a way for me to like self organize self support. This year I've been really getting much more involved in using Slack in terms of the time and communities that are around. And I think I think again, you know, you can have your social network within an organization, but this has led to me having a support network, collective network outside of an organization that's been quite open to me.

They struggle to go back on that one.

Casey [00:27:32:23 - 00:27:59:29]

Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah. Slack then. Yeah, really good job. And I think creating a a format that like lets communities like really come to life. So yeah, love to hear that. And I agree with you on the calendar app it's like Google Maps. I don't know what we did before we had this thing. And then the second one is do you have like a favorite like podcast or TV show?

Either like that you kind of lean into to stay up to date on like work related stuff or just generally like if you're going to recommend something to a brand, what would it be at the moment?

Dan de Lord [00:28:11:01 - 00:28:39:03]

Well, as we talked about earlier, it doesn't translate to every location because it's UK based. But I'm really into race across the world in my room, which is on that. Check it out. If you come from a series perspective, it's fascinating and like a total bucket list of things I love to do, I'm in terms of like webcasts are just so they've found the striving and thriving group that they're Australia based.

They have a podcast series around to raise a relevant and I'm kind of see where I'm looking to go. But they've got a series of episodes on moving from zero towards people and culture. So I've been loving once was.

Casey [00:28:55:01 - 00:29:13:23]

Cool, awesome. I'll have to check that out. And yeah, I'm super excited to have that show. And then the last one, I'm a big foodie personally, so I always like to get inspired, but what's your favorite snack to have when you're at work to keep you going or just like that, you look forward to?

Dan de Lord [00:29:13:26 - 00:29:44:12]

So I do as well. And I like nice food, but I love cooking. I also put anything in the sandwich, really. So and it could be leftovers. It could be like very random mixes. So I do things like my eating habits home are sort of, you know, the like kind of like more interesting than tasteful, I think.

Casey [00:29:44:15 - 00:29:50:09]

Okay. What's like the most interesting sandwich you've made recently?

Dan de Lord [00:29:50:12 - 00:29:58:01]

I'm a I basically rest in a in some sandwich the weekend I.

Casey [00:29:58:04 - 00:30:02:03]

Was in a Yorkshire knitting. Or was it an actual bread?

Dan de Lord [00:30:02:05 - 00:30:07:16]

Actually, bread. It was.

Casey [00:30:07:18 - 00:30:28:27]

Amazing. All right. Well, I guess that wraps it up. But thank you so much for joining me today. This has been really fun. And yeah, I can't wait to continue the conversation in the months to come and see if all of this stuff comes to a to be a reality. And yeah, it looks, you know.

Dan de Lord [00:30:29:00 - 00:30:43:26]

Thank you. I think as long as we can keep pressure on from our relationship perspective and our perspective, then hopefully we do have the longest trends keep pace with once.

Casey [00:30:43:29 - 00:30:47:02]

Awesome. Cool. All right. Bye, everybody.

Dan de Lord [00:30:47:05 - 00:30:47:16]


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