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: