Half of agency dollars will divert to freelancers in 10 years, study says
- Marketing roles are growing but so is a talent gap as companies hunt for more highly-specialized skills, with 3x as many marketing managers reporting hiring has become harder in the past year than easier, according to a "Future Workforce Report" from the freelancing website Upwork and research firm Inavero whose findings were made available as an exclusive to Marketing Dive.
- To help fill that gap, more in the industry are starting to invest in freelance talent: traditional agencies will lose 33% of their billing to freelancers and freelance agencies in the next five years, and 50% of traditional agency dollars will be redirected to freelancers in the next decade. The half-life of marketers is less than three years, Upwork said, meaning marketers must proactively re-skill every two years to remain viable in the employment marketplace. This year will mark the demise of the "marketing generalist" in Upwork's estimation, and within five years, marketing teams will consist of leaders and specialists only, including 50% freelance talent.
Technology is driving these trends and the push toward freelancer hires, particularly for telecommuting and remote workers. Fewer than 10% of marketing managers said location is important to a new team member's success and 78% report having someone on their team who works a significant portion of their time remotely. Companies that don't evolve hiring practices will be at a competitive disadvantage, according to 74% of marketing managers, and 55% suggested freelancers will be part of their long-term hiring strategy.
Traditional agencies currently face a wave of scrutiny for non-transparent practices, overly-complex infrastructures and failures to achieve digital transformation for their business. As the pressure to build out digital marketing expertise at companies grows, and digital technology's pace of change shows no sign of slowing, freelancers might be a solution in helping marketers fill a critical, widening skills gap. Freelancers, beyond potentially helping marketers' meet their goals more nimbly, might also prove to be a cheaper alternative for an industry looking to tighten its belt.
"Marketers today face a dilemma," Rich Pearson, SVP of marketing at Upwork, said in a statement. "With more ideas than people to execute, they are asking themselves how they can access the talent they need to keep pace. Traditional agencies have long been the primary solution to help fill these skills gaps, but with the increased availability of freelance talent, marketers have a new, more cost-effective option for getting work done."
Agencies are feeling a pinch, not just from freelancers, but also consultancies that historically have stronger technology backgrounds. While some analysts have agreed that consultancies' competitive threat is overblown, there's no doubting that the traditional agency's stature as the go-to model for marketing services is in a precarious spot.
The number of digital marketing job postings has grown nearly 2x in the past five years, according to some estimates, but many still have trouble pinning down the skill set required to succeed. Earlier this month, a number of high-profile brands, including Google, L'Oréal and Priceline, teamed with General Assembly to attempt to better define what digital marketing skills are and to make jobs more attainable and transparent.
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