Paul Swann: Shift from retainers to project work sees everyone ‘pedal fast to keep up’

A shift by clients towards project from the traditional retainer model is forcing traditional ad agencies to be more nimble as everyone has to “pedal fast to keep up with what’s changing” according to The Works creative partner Paul Swann.

Responding to a question in a Mumbrella video hangout around a shift to project work Swann said: “What’s been interesting in terms of our agency is how we’ve had to change roles and functions and be more nimble.

“The proportion of full-time staff to freelance is changing, the types of roles we have are changing a lot and that’s been in response to the proliferation of smaller production companies that now exist, clients have more options when it comes to producing work, small little shops are able to do that very cost effectively and produce a decent standard of work.

The comments around retainer models comes 15 minutes into the video.

“Also clients bringing studio resource in-house, the democratisation of tools to create work has meant that can happen.

“We have this function in our business that I know is now in a lot of organisations, the predator, the producer/editor/director. This individual who can go out and shoot social content, edit it and work with a social strategist to get it out to the world. Being able to be really nimble and really fleet in terms of that function, that wasn’t something in our business 12 months ago.

“It’s kind of exciting that we’re having to respond and people are having to learn new skills. Everyone’s having to pedal fast to keep up with what’s changing,” he added.

He was joined in the hangout to discuss the latest ads by Jack Morton ECD Richard Bradley, who on the topic of retainers, said it is not a sudden shift.

“The rise of procurement has been fairly obvious in the last couple of years and everyone has gotten used to that and tightened the purse strings. If it comes as a surprise then you probably should be working somewhere else,” he said.

“On a larger scale it’s a reflection on the direction of the way advertising is going in a sense,” he continued.

“As a brand if you have a strong strategy around content, the strategy is leading the direction of the brand, what previously would have been we need the creative agency to do the TVC, that’s all changed now.

“If you’ve got a strong strategy and brand purpose, consumers know your brand, and you create campaigns where you’re inviting consumers into your brand and letting them create content around it, it changes the dynamic of what the agency’s there to produce and if the strategy is laid out and strong and is led by media, the role of the creative agency changes and does it need to be hands on, retainer throughout the year or can it be we just need pop ups of ideas?”

Swann admitted The Works has experienced “a bit of a shift” towards project work, arguing there needs to be “give and take” with agencies able to work on other brands in the category when not working on a project for the said brand.

Swann looked to online platforms such as YouTube and Facebook who could cause another “wave of change” due to “their ability to not just distribute content but also to make it, curate it, collate it”.

During the hangout Swann and Bradley looked at recent  work including the Bible Society’s Anzac Day campaign, work from Optus and Telstra which uses similar ideas, Ford’s aggressive push against Toyota and a recent campaign from Visa, as well as commenting on the sensitivities around marketers tapping into events like Anzac Day. (View the ads here)

MIranda Ward


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