Novelist and advertising consultant Ann Bauer does not work the typical 9 to 5.
Her days are a mix of walking the dog, teleconferencing with clients and writing in between visits to the gym. On the first day of summer, Bauer spent the morning relaxing on the deck at her northeast Minneapolis home, where she does most of her work.
Freelancers like Bauer are in high demand by marketing agencies in the Twin Cities and elsewhere as a way to add breadth to a team without the financial overhead that full-time staff would cost.
“It’s becoming much more lucrative for freelancers because there’s a market for more specialized skills,” said Steve Wallace, recent past president of the Advertising Federation of Minnesota.
Freelancers have always been a part of the advertising and marketing industry. But lately, there has been a lot of opportunities for advertising professionals to strike out on their own, said Wallace, 48, who is a freelance digital strategist and started his company Alba Strategy last winter.
Clients of advertising agencies have shifted to paying for projects rather than using monthly retainer fees.
As a result, it can be cheaper for agencies to hire a freelancer here or there on a project than to have to pay for a full-time worker who may not always be needed, Wallace said. Freelancing can also be a better personal choice for some workers.
“I’m seeing more and more senior people who have experience go into consulting. Why? Because the lifestyle is better,” Wallace said.
Bauer, 50, who worked as an associate creative director at ad agency Olson, began freelancing four years ago when her third book came out and she needed time to promote it. She has never looked back, and now she does writing and strategy work often for the health care and medical technology sectors.
“Right now this is an extraordinary way for me to have freedom, make a good living, meet terrific people and save for the things that are important to me,” Bauer said.
Working independently is becoming more popular. The amount of people who work remotely has risen more than 50 percent since 2000 among the state’s workforce, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. While there is not a lot of data specifically about marketing freelancers, industry professionals say anecdotally the numbers are increasing.
“I don’t see it going away,” said Jason Sprenger, president of the Minnesota Public Relations Society of America, on freelancing. “Technology is only going to make people more accessible. The ability to work remotely isn’t going away anytime soon.”
Another large factor for the influx of freelancing public relations professionals has been that the definition of what constitutes “public relations” has also changed and broadened to include more people in different roles, Sprenger said.
Sprenger, who started his own public relations business Game Changer Communications in 2012, said though freelancing is not easy, it’s relatively inexpensive to start a public relations business.
The challenges in freelancing, Bauer said, include juggling stretches of inactivity and dealing with logistics such as taxes and health insurance.
Veda Partalo, 32, has worked as an independent brand consultant for a little more than a year. She has worked for Adidas and Verizon as well as spent a stint last year at Mithun (now McCann Minneapolis) where she advised on advertising strategy for some of the firm’s new business endeavors. One of her favorite freelancing projects was a pro bono collaboration she did with a creative studio to create a set of “Refugees Welcome” window stickers for local businesses.
“I choose to consult six months of the year and spend the other six working on personal and pro bono projects,” Partalo said, via e-mail from Bosnia, where she’s working on a formula for a spirits company she is launching. “By doing this, I’ve found I’ve done more in a short year than I had in the previous three, simply because everything I take on now is precious to me.”
LEE Branding President and CEO Terri Lee knows all about the life of a freelancer. For 17 years, she worked at Risdall Marketing Group as an independent contractor before she started her own agency.
Her firm does branding work for numerous health care and consumer clients such as HealthPartners’ Virtuwell and the Minnesota Lynx women’s basketball team.
LEE Branding has 15 full-time staff members and a network of around 40 freelancers that it uses. Sometimes contractors are used for specialized skills like research or programming, Lee said. Her business model gives her the flexibility to “bring the best team to the table,” Lee said.
“It’s really about how do we remain scalable. … Budgets are smaller than they used to be so how can we offer the best deliverables,” she said.
At her office in northeast Minneapolis, Lee designed a massive wooden table with outlets meant for freelancers to collaborate when they have a project.
Across the river, in the North Loop office of the marketing firm Friends & Neighbors, co-founder Mark Bubula said it could not handle the type of business he wants to work on without freelancers. His office employs 11 people and uses up to 35 freelancers. “We have less overhead by not having to have lots and lots of services in-house,” he said.
At Hammer Saw, a Minneapolis agency, there are only three full-time staff, all of them involved in every project, said co-founder and creative director Troy Longie. The three bring in writers, designers and strategists as needed. The company is currently working on a project for Columbia Sportswear.
“As clients are becoming more project-based and are becoming more nimble, then an agency needs to reflect that and adjust to that,” Longie said.