The world of work is changing, and more and more people are taking advantage of the ‘gig economy’. But it’s nothing new for the marketing industry, particularly experiential, says Shushanah Bull of BD Network
It’s hard to ignore the gig economy. It’s everywhere – a simple search on Google returns very polarized results, from one camp who think it’s the future of work, to another who think it’s the beginning of the end for job security and the economy.
Oddly enough, the marketing industry as a whole has been largely silent on this matter. Marketing and advertising are typically the first sectors to jump on new trends, and are also where the concept of freelancers – a very different role from short term gig work, but still non-permanent – and project-based work has been entrenched for years.
Promotional marketing and live events have a natural voice on this matter too – hiring short term staff to run branded events and bring products to life has been part and parcel of that space for decades.
It’s the essence of ‘gig economics’ in action – and it seems to be working, with happy staff returning to event after event in order to help engage customers.
But, as ‘gig’ employment becomes more widespread, there are certain key elements which those of us activating the brand experience would do well to keep in mind.
The brand has to be the touchstone. It is essential that the right people are matched to a brand – given that they then go on to embody it. The wrong person won’t be credible to the audience or be able to express a product or service quite as well as someone who is passionate about it. So you need to have multiple-step screening processes in place, to make sure the people who are put forward to represent a brand are actually the best possible ambassadors.
Not everyone can be a brand staffing professional – just as not everyone could work as a Deliveroo cyclist. It may even be more arduous a process for someone interviewing staff for an event rather than for a permanent role – as in promotions, where it’s all about the right offer at the right time to the right audience, in experiential, you have to be absolutely certain that you’re delivering the right people for the brand.
That could involve recruiting true chocolate lovers to communicate the pleasure and joy of a well-known chocolate brand or recruiting native Italian speakers to reflect an international brand’s heritage. The point is to connect with audiences on a much deeper level.
Given the rise of the gig economy, it may be tempting to cut costs and jump on gig apps or staffing sites to locate your event staff. However, the right people with the right stuff for a brand experience can’t simply be booked through an app; well-matched brand ambassadors are worth their weight in gold, as brands will continue to come back to them. Great staffers are in huge demand, so staffing agencies and experiential agencies must treat them well.
It’s also important to follow the law and the regulations around employment. Brand ambassadors are NOT freelancers if they are being ‘directed’ by an agency or a brand – so if their hours are set, or they are required to wear a uniform or branded kit, for example, they have to be paid PAYE. Best practice is to ensure staff get at least an eight-hour day minimum contract for working at an event, and most importantly, have access to holiday pay.
Good events staff know what to expect; they are chosen because they bring life and joy to an event, and often these are people who would be attending these events themselves if they weren’t working there. Many are using these jobs as ways of topping up other income, or filling time around other priorities – they thrive on the flexibility that working live events can bring, and they enjoy sharing things they are passionate about with others.
It’s this careful balance that makes aspects of ‘gig’ work within the marketing world – it’s impossible to force the kind of enthusiasm which is essential for these events to be successful, and it takes a certain kind of person to want to share a brand story with another. These are the essential components of making gig work successful overall – when your connection to the work itself isn’t purely transitory or fleeting, but there is a deeper motivation than purely a financial reward at the end.
It’s also why the Freeman Global Brand Experience Survey this year saw CMOs around the world predict their spending would be between 21% and 50% of their budgets on brand experience. It brings energy and attractiveness to a brand to see real life connections with their products happen – and all of that is fueled by the integral staffers bringing those events to life, and, most importantly, to customers.
Shushanah Bull is Staffing and Talent Director at leading integrated marketing agency BD Network