Breaking the rules: Why I left advertising in search of something better, by Kathy Leonard

Breaking the rules: Why I left advertising in search of something better

By Kathy Leonard

I’m not really a rule breaker.

In fact, I think rules are generally good, even though I’m occasionally compelled to push the edges of the ones that annoy me.

So when I began to question the status quo of how advertising agencies and marketing departments are structured, I was stepping outside of my own norm.

Because although agencies (and marketers in general) like to think of themselves as creative rule-breakers, the fact is, for decades these organizations ran on a set of tacitly accepted, unquestioned practices.

Enter: the Great Recession.

Until, of course, 2008 and what’s known today as the Great Recession.

It’s generally understood that marketing budgets are the first to be slashed when a business or industry experiences a financial downturn. This happens even though all evidence indicates that in times of crisis or change, communicating with customers is most critical.

The fall-out of the decision to pull back on marketing, of course, is that agency partners lose important income, necessitating layoffs. Then, in-house marketing departments begin their cuts, ultimately trimming not just ad spending, but their own staff as well.

Experiencing the Great Recession firsthand, I remember being surprised at the depth of job losses suffered by my peers in marketing and advertising.

But this was not the only change taking place.

At the time, digital had just begun to make its mark in the Marketing Communications space. Clients liked digital media because of its speed-to-market and ability to reach targets with custom messaging at relatively low cost.

Agencies, on the other hand, had a tough time monetizing digital while illustrating to clients they knew the medium and could do it better. So while a new technology was arriving on the scene with massive impact on our industry, agencies were slow to realize the financial value.

As a result, the beginning of 2009 saw arguably more experienced marketers, advertising executives and talented creative people in the market for work than ever before.

And, oddly, many of them weren’t eager to go back to traditional offices and agency roles. They enjoyed working from home and, if they could make it work financially, freelance and contract roles suited them well.

This spawned what became known as the Gig Economy.

The perfect storm. The perfect partnership.

As an ad agency executive myself, I was both horrified by the number of out-of-work MarCom people and intrigued by the resilience of many in finding ways to deliver their skills and talent outside of traditional on-site, in-office, department-led, hierarchic-structured organizations.

What if, I began to wonder, all of these factors were converging to create a perfect storm?

What if the time were right for a new approach, one that solved multiple challenges:

  • Access to talent: Clients could access highly experienced and talented marketing and advertising professionals they could never hire nor find on their own;
  • Flexible, scalable solutions: Cost-effective and right-sized marketing solutions could be delivered to clients of all sizes by creating on-demand resources that could be scaled up or down as needed.
By removing the costly overhead of traditional on-site staffing and retained agencies, it ultimately could be possible to create interesting and unique approaches to getting the work done.

But having an innovative idea or approach is one thing; executing it, as always, is quite another.

Creating a new way to deliver MarCom services required breaking from the traditional agency model, and embracing a model that is uniquely attuned to identifying and managing talent: Staffing.

Applying an experienced marketing and advertising team to a staffing business model became our vehicle to deliver marketing solutions in an infinitely more flexible, scalable and creative way.
And thus Freeman+Leonard was born.

Longtime staffing entrepreneur Valerie Freeman brought the staffing business experience. As co-founder and CEO of Imprimis Group, Valerie had built one of the largest independently owned staffing companies in Texas, serving over 1,000 customers a year.

And I brought the marketing acumen with my 25+ years in advertising, including executive leadership roles at TracyLocke and The Integer Group.

With this combination of background and skills, we set off to create something new.

Building the solutions I always wish I had.

We began thinking about marketing services as a series of products.

With access to talent at every skill level, background and experience, we had the opportunity to be extremely creative with how we would provide that talent and those services to clients large and small, in B2B and B2C and almost any category or industry.

And so, we built the solutions that, as an advertising executive, I always wish I’d had.

You want an executive-level marketer? We can provide an on-demand CMO for a day, for a month or interim full-time, or available annually, quarterly, or however often suits you.

When you’re challenged with strategic direction, business/product innovation and C-Suite leadership, our Game Changers are ready with marketing consulting expertise from brands the likes of P&G, PepsiCo, Disney and Microsoft.

You’d like to access a stable of writers, art directors and illustrators? We can identify them, pre-vet them and train them on your brand standards and have them on-call as the need exists.

We can even put experienced producers onsite to manage your in-house production team.

Need a big idea? We built Imagine Nation™, a group of creative ideators from around the country experienced with every major ad agency and every major brand. They quite literally “knock your socks off” with everything from brand positioning and ad campaign ideas, to promotion concepts and more.

These award-winning creative thinkers and brand-savvy professionals will provide a fresh approach to creatively market your brand.

Want your own customized agency resource? Freeman+Leonard builds a team exactly as any top-caliber agency in the country would. The only difference: You aren’t paying the retainer nor the overhead of such an agency, though you get the same skills, experience, leadership and better-than-great creative.

Need this custom agency to work alongside and cooperatively with your other retained agencies? We’ll happily do that, too.

You’ve never had it so easy!

Freeman+Leonard will even payroll your own in-house staff so you keep your own team but don’t have to carry that expense as overhead.

The options are endless, customized and scalable. The quality of work is amazing, exactly as you’d expect from the experience and backgrounds of the talent.

Déjà vu, all over again.

What began out of necessity — as most new ideas and business concepts seem to do — easily became part of a comfortable routine as the economy improved after the free-fall of 2008.

Companies rehired and traditional staffing seemed the acceptable norm. Freeman+Leonard provided their clients with on-demand staffing solutions: generally on-site talent to fill permanent positions and contract roles.

And, occasionally, a risk-taking CMO would tap into the on-demand talent options that delivered amazing creative solutions for brand positioning assignments and advertising messaging.

But this year has brought stunning events, most significantly a global pandemic that sent so many home to work from bedrooms and kitchens and in other creative home-office solutions.

Again, the economic fallout has cost many marketers their full-time jobs.

This time around, however, hiring managers realize that marketing and advertising resources can be customized more than ever before to fit not only their brand and messaging but also their operational needs.

Making the pivot to a more successful business strategy has become such a focus for companies these past few months that the term itself has begun to produce eyerolls.

But no matter the buzzword du jour, finding new and innovative ways to deliver marketing services should always be in vogue.

And the creative opportunities on the delivery side of the MarCom field are what truly have always fascinated me. So in that sense, it was probably inevitable that I would find myself here, on the cusp of a new era in marketing, breaking old rules and making new ones.

As our industry, economy and lifestyles continue to evolve and change, Freeman+Leonard will be here to help clients and talent find more creative and mutually beneficial ways to get the work done.

Use the contact form below to reach out and start a conversation. We can show you more ways to find and use the nation’s best marketing and advertising minds.

And it costs you nothing to explore that opportunity.

Get in touch with a Freeman+Leonard consultant today:

Marketing leaders: 5 smart moves to make now for post-COVID success

Marketing leaders: 5 smart moves to make now for post-COVID success

By Kathy Leonard

It's a different world.

When I think back to January of this year I am often fascinated by my own stunning naiveté. Or call it blissful ignorance. Either way, nothing could quite prepare me, or any of us, for what was to come.

In early March, we were all thrust into a world that has caused virtually every organization to rethink what they do and how they work. It’s likely forever changed the way we all do business, not to mention live our lives and perform our individual jobs.

That is, those who still have one.

What had been one of the lowest unemployment levels in years has climbed – with unprecedented speed – to 14.7%. Millions of Americans have been laid off, furloughed or hit with significant compensation reductions.

As is often the case during times of economic uncertainty and turmoil, marketing departments and agencies are some of the first and most significantly impacted.

While we’ve yet to see COVID-19’s ultimate effect on the industry, most experts predict an overall decline in ad spending for 2020 between 10% and 15%. And that doesn’t even address all other marketing cuts.

It’s not surprising that brands and agencies have had to adjust their staffing models to compensate for lost revenues.

While all of this certainly is devastating for our industry, it does provide a unique opportunity to rethink the future of work in a fast-evolving world and the makeup of the workforce that will best position all of us for success.

Consider these ways to turn this disaster into a positive for your organization.

1. Deepen your bench strength.

As you reevaluate how to move forward with fewer resources, think about what skills are missing from your team and how different talent or experience would enhance your marketing effort and message.

Treat this as if you were creating a wish list of talent and MarCom and MarTech resources. Then use this time to line up those resources.

You or your colleagues may be able to identify individuals from your own past jobs and experience. But there are companies that can do that for you, and you don’t actually pay until you engage the talent.

Freeman+Leonard has a larger pool of creative and marketing talent than even the largest client or agency in the nation. Our network of professionals covers every area of expertise needed for today’s marketing environment – from strategy, project management, executive leadership and creative teams to digital planning, UX design, programming, and online media planning and buying.

These people can be identified, vetted and trained in your brand standards to be ready to go when you say jump.

Start your wish list now!

2. Upgrade your in-house team.

Here is the hidden opportunity.

You now have the perfect excuse to trim the fat from your team — even those who have been good enough, but maybe not as great as you’d like — and replace them with who you know could be a stronger, more ideal talent solution or team member.

Before this crisis, many marketing departments had become stagnant, perhaps having to rely on outside resources to deliver new skills and solutions.

Now is your chance to meet those needs with new “internal” people, while eliminating often-expensive ongoing relationships with outside professional partners.

Look within your own network, but also consider a partner like Freeman+Leonard to deliver fresh, new résumés from people you’d never meet on your own: talent with all levels of brand-side and agency experience.

Whether as an onsite addition or working in a virtual capacity, our talent solutions could immediately increase the value of your internal team by adding new skills and expertise – while eliminating the bloat and inefficiencies so common with many outsourced solutions.

Not every qualified candidate will be a good fit for your team, though, and social distancing can present even more challenges to the vetting process.

That’s why we provide all clients with a predictive performance assessment to ensure that new hires will succeed in their defined roles. This amazing assessment tool can predict a person’s ability to perform successfully in a job at a 98% level of accuracy! No other job success predictor on the market does this. Use this tool and don’t risk making an unfortunate hire.

3. Break out of your own box.

Corporate marketing and agency staffing are no longer about hiring permanent employees. They’re simply about getting the best talent to deliver the best work.

The more you feel the need to bring people into permanent roles, the less you allow yourself access to amazing talent.

It’s time to rethink that.

On-demand solutions provide access to remarkable talent with a variety of skills – skills and expertise you can tap as needed, and scale down as business needs change.

Think of how much more efficient and effective your own marketing machine could become with that level of flexibility and access.

Freeman+Leonard was created to give clients and agencies access to on-demand talent for variable needs. With our diverse talent pool and variety of ways to access that talent, organizations utilize the right people and skills to solve any size and type of marketing challenge.

The need might be simply for a single project, such as the redesign of a website, or more complex and seasonal, say, for a fully integrated brand advertising campaign or a retail sales promotion. No matter, we have experienced individuals and established teams that can tackle any project, large or small.

4. Go ahead. Reach for the stars.

Perhaps when you hear “staffing” you think primarily of entry- or mid-level talent. Think again.

One result of embracing a more flexible staffing solution is that now you can access more senior-level marketing talent.

Many extraordinary leaders – from Marketing Directors and CMOs to Account Directors and Creative Directors – currently seek opportunities to contribute their talents for companies that could benefit from senior leadership and depth of experience.

Freeman+Leonard has relationships with seasoned marketing experts, leaders and consultants who’ve had tremendous success and experience throughout most every industry.

And many of these invaluable resources are currently pursuing both traditional and non-traditional ways to engage with new organizations that face new challenges.

Regardless of the specifics of the particular need, companies today can access more-senior talent in more ways, so they can not only survive, but thrive in today’s climate.

5. Diversify. Now.

It’s time, more than ever before, for organizations to commit to having their workforce better reflect the diversity of the world around us.

Freeman+Leonard values, seeks out and promotes a diversity of talent to benefit any organization. We hope that our commitment to change within our industry can not only solve specific client problems, but also help solve larger systemic problems that can be eliminated only through action.

We are committed to that. We want to use our talent resources to help you do that, too.

Feel free to reach out to our leadership to discuss certain needs of your organization and how, together, we can make all of our teams stronger.

Do yourself a favor.

Our world has changed significantly, so we are working hard to give clients access to more amazing talent and innovative ways to use that talent.

And on the other side, we want to provide top-performing talent with interesting ways to engage with clients and deliver creative, blow-you-away thinking.

Use the contact form below to reach out and start a conversation. We can show you more ways to find and use the nation’s best marketing and advertising minds.

And it costs you nothing to explore that opportunity.

Get in touch with a Freeman+Leonard consultant today: