Thursday, May 21, 2009

Working with Freelance Talent

I'm a big fan of Seth Godin but I think his recent post on working with freelance talent could lead to frustration and mediocre results if taken too literally by schools, colleges and universities.

In my view, he's got two main points:
  1. There is more great freelance talent out there than ever before. Use it.
  2. You better do the difficult, internal strategic thinking you need to do before hiring that talent if you want results you can use.
As that freelance talent, I couldn't agree more. Institutions hire me for message strategy and writing. When they know what they're trying to accomplish we can do great work together.

My quibble with Godin is that he posits: Either give the freelancer "a clean sheet of paper." Or say, "Here are three logos from companies in other industries, together with the statement we want to make, the size it needs to be, the formats we need to use it and our budget, go!" He concludes that the second option will definitely yield results you can use.

I suggest a third option: Do the difficult strategic thinking about what you want and need to accomplish, what your institution is truly great at, what you think your message buckets are and what your budget is. But if you need help answering some of those questions, freelance talent who knows your competition can get you there. And being so specific about the details of look and feel as to suggest size may miss the point of hiring that talent. They're partners who need to collaborate with you. Not people who simply fill in your blanks. I say this having been both an institutional client and a consultant.

I think about Yale Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel. When he hired Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, Bierut's colleague Yve Ludwig, and me to do the new Yale viewbook, Brenzel's team had already done the hard thinking about their goals. Walking away from our first meeting, we knew what the key messages were. We knew the audiences. We knew what we wanted the audience to feel when they held and read the viewbook. And then he said "Go!"

In some ways, I've never had so much specificity and so much freedom.The results hit every one of the goals and then some.

1 comment:

evieash said...

Agreed. If the client knows the exact needs of its audience and the DNA of its school then freelancers may be the way to go. From my experience some schools know who they are and how to differentiate themselves with purpose and value to their audience, others do not.