African Echo: How freelancing could help Zambia’s ad industry
by Joanna Hickey-Damalis (@joanna277) Zambia’s advertising industry is by no means insulated from entrepreneurial activities.
The Global Entrepreneurship & Development Index respectively ranks Zambia as the ninth and 102nd most-entrepreneurial country in the region and world. In the recent past, entrepreneurship in Zambia has been driven by the lack of formal job opportunities for youth in the private and public labour markets, with youth unemployment levels estimated by the Central Statistical Office to be at 16.3% (September 2017). This, coupled with comparatively low entry-level salaries being offered (where available) and increasing living costs, encourages youth engagement in entrepreneurial activities.
Better-educated, more IT-savvy youth are self-training to become rudimentary designers offering quick cheap solutions to small- and middle-sized, often resident and cost-conscious, companies. On the face of it, such initiatives could be applauded as a hallmark of a free market capitalist economy and the upgrading of oneself. In reality, lack of access to capital for such entrepreneurs and low revenue levels from their target customers limit their ability to grow their businesses, create additional employment and finance a full-service provision to the client (strategy, media buy and expansion into other service offerings).
Concurrently, the companies that do use such services also suffer in the long run, as their advertising remains sub-par compared to their larger corporate competitors, which access their service provision though established agencies that have both the resources and know how to execute coordinated cross-service campaigns. The nett result is:
- Freelance designers are removing themselves from the advertising labour market and are not realising their full skills or revenue potential; and
- Small- and medium-sized companies, the backbone of any developing economy, fail to fully benefit from an effective long-term advertising campaign that truly develops their brands, eventually undermining their ability to thrive (and survive) in an increasingly competitive market.
So how does one solve this problem? The solution is multifaceted and must address the needs and realities of both the entrepreneurial designer, and the small- or middle-sized company being serviced. Ultimately, the agency must also recreate itself to become a facilitator and caretaker to both.
For the designer, skills development and a secured income are important; this may be achieved by:
- The establishment of design, marketing and branding schools, which could also act as an employment or freelance talent pool for the agencies themselves (think Vega of South Africa)
- The establishment of on-demand talent collaborations between the agencies and freelance designers, where agencies will drive the strategy and direction through use of their knowhow, financial resources and networks. The freelance designers would undertake specific non-confidential deliverables subcontracted to them by the agency (a 2016 report by Accenture estimating that 43% of the US workforce is expected to be freelance by 2020)
For the small- to medium-sized company which often uses freelance designers, sensitisation on how best to run a successful advertising campaign and cost considerations are key; this may be achieved by:
- Agencies stepping up to the plate through increased fact-based interaction with potential customers in the small- and middle-sized company segments, either through one-one meetings, training sessions and conferences (it’s about time we considered giving something for free!)
- Reducing fixed agency overheads through the increased use of a liquid freelance workforce, would allow more-competitive agency pricing to cost-conscious customers and/or executing a cheaper brand strategy without necessarily cheapening the brand
This doesn’t mean that agencies in Zambia will, at least in the short term, have no permanent employees, something unlikely to sit well with larger corporate clients which demand quick turnaround times and confidentiality in their planning. What’s suggested here is a targeted, potentially profitable, freelance strategy designed to address the needs of a market often unserviced by formal agencies while simultaneously upgrading and bringing freelance designers into the agency fold.
Ultimately, the economy, and specifically the advertising industry, stands to benefit by improved service delivery.
Joanna Hickey-Damalis (@joanna277) is agency principal of Adlab in Zambia and has more than 12 years of experience in the advertising industry. Having worked for an international affiliate in a senior account-manager position, Jo went on to establish Adlab with the view of focusing on the client-agency relationship in order to garner the best agency performance and the best results. Initially focusing on growing an outstanding creative team, Joanna also personally managed some of the agency’s clients, such as Shoprite, for over six years. This has given her invaluable insight into the Zambian advertising and consumer landscape, culminating in an agency that works smarter and harder. African Echo seeks to unpack markets in Africa, highlight business opportunities and share insights into what works and what rebounds.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.
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