Adland has to move with the times in a 'free state'
A view from Mark Boyd

Adland has to move with the times in a 'free state'

In our line of work, it's good to be able to reference pop culture: to know your House Baratheon and all who serve it.

Particularly good when searching for a theme for a Campaign column – the hierarchical, feudal nature of Game Of Thrones, all that command-and-control stuff, got me thinking about how we are prone to lord it up over each other.

We are still a very possessive lot. Agencies need to be a bit more Tyrion than Joffrey if the industry is to be progressive, modern and not beholden to old-fashioned ways of working that restrict opportunities for our people as well as the quality of our work.

Enter the "free state", where staff are treated as colleagues rather than underlings and are free to gain experiences beyond the confines of their workbenches. This isn’t some lily-livered liberal experiment – experience of the "other" is so much more valuable. So, for example, if you are a brilliant comedy writer who is sharper by spending most of your time writing shows: great. We’ll call you when we need you. And if you’re a journalist working on content for brands but also writing for Vice: done. Brilliant. Have a desk at Gravity Road.

It’s also the appropriate solution to the development of the project-based culture. Such a cultural shift requires so many different experts that there needs to be a shift from the workhouse practice of "owning" people’s labour and clocking in and out each day towards a more fluid commissioning model where brilliant people are free to go it alone and still feel part of the gang. 

And, while on the subject of contracts, what about project culture? As an industry, we risk committing ourselves to serfdom – bent on one knee at the seat of short-term, project-based contracts that demand long-term exclusivity and non-compete clauses. Retainers (loyal or otherwise) have been discarded, as clients quite rightly want the freedom that project-based relationships bring and the flexibility to choose different people and agencies to work with.

In this "free state", this is appropriate. But, for agencies, this freedom can exact a price. We love a project but, for the health of the industry as a whole, the terms must move with the times. Historical and restrictive practices are in danger of becoming shackles – and that’s not in the interests of agencies or clients. Twelve weeks’ work doesn’t warrant 12 months’ non-compete terms.

The days of obsessing about ownership are coming to an end – it’s about partnership and a freer approach to collaboration rather than complete control. But things won’t change until we rise up against these feudal bonds, discard the command-and-control mentality of this industry and ascend to the broad, sunlit uplands.

Mark Boyd is a founding partner at Gravity Road