What Life Sciences Marketers Can Learn From Hollywood About Buying Consulting And Agency Services

Recently, TheNew York Times published an article headlined, “What Hollywood Can Teach Us About the Future of Work.” In it, the author marvels at the “Hollywood model” of work: where ad hoc teams carry out large and complex projects, requiring diverse talents with complementary skills. Per the article: “A project is identified; a team [of contractors] is assembled; it works together for precisely as long as is needed to complete the task; then the team disbands.”

This article is just one of many recent commentaries on what amounts to a seismic shift in the way services work gets done, a shift toward flexible, just-in-time delivery of talent being fueled by several forces, including: 

  • The acceleration of the freelance economy — according to Freelancers Union, 34% of the American workforce, some 53 million people, are freelancers. Another study by Intuit projects that number will reach 60 million or 40% of the workforce by 2020.
  • The proliferation of network and productivity technologies — from Google Apps to LinkedIn to O-Desk to to Survey Monkey — that make the process of sourcing, managing and administering distributed freelance talent quick and efficient. 
  • A general change in workers’ attitudes, which demonstrates a recognition that careers will be shaped by the projects one pursues versus a long-term open-ended relationship with a single employer. 
  • Corporate cost pressures, which make the idea of turning fixed labor costs into variable ones very appealing. 



So, what does this mean to you?

Well, if you are a life sciences marketer of any kind — a brand manager, market researcher, digital marketer or a procurement lead — these trends mean you have an opportunity to re-think the way you purchase consulting or agency services. Here’s why: so-called "networked" consulting firms or agencies — those embracing the Hollywood model — offer multiple advantages over the traditional approach, which still prevails.

The traditional approach emphasizes staffing full-time employees. Anyone who has worked at an agency or a consulting firm knows first-hand the pressures full-time employees feel to remain billable. Freelancers are typically staffed by exception only when full-time talent is not available. 

The networked model turns this approach on its head, staffing the right talent for the project from the burgeoning marketplace of independent talent. As a consequence, clients have a greater chance of getting the particular skills they need versus the skills that happen to be available. And, because the freelance model is project-driven, networked firms can easily staff up or down based on the ebb and flow of client needs. 

The traditional approach also emphasizes working centrally in physical offices where employees commute to every day. A large percentage of client fee dollars go to supporting such overhead expenses, which often do not add direct value to a client’s project. In the networked model, projects are regularly completed in a virtual, distributed fashion. As a consequence, clients do not pay for extraneous overhead, and project teams and clients enjoy the benefits of increased productivity.

Making the Shift

The networked model of consulting or agency services offers tangible benefits to clients measured in quality, efficiency and flexibility. Better quality by tapping the right talent, regardless of whether it’s “in-house,” from the thriving independent workforce. Better efficiency by eliminating extraneous overhead. And better flexibility by enabling clients to swiftly staff up on and staff down based on fluctuating demands.

In many senses the model underscores the core value of a health consulting firm or agency in today’s economy — to be a curator and manager of specialized talent to solve a particular set of client challenges. 

TheNew York Times article reminds us the workforce is rapidly shifting in all sectors of the economy. As a result of these trends, many astute life sciences marketers have begun to seek out firms who embrace this model and can rapidly and flexibly deploy specialized talent from their networks. What steps have you taken to adapt? Please share!

4 comments about "What Life Sciences Marketers Can Learn From Hollywood About Buying Consulting And Agency Services".
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  1. Brian Bennett from STIR LLC, June 2, 2015 at 10:45 a.m.

    Very articulate article but only partically true.  The virtual team is always espoused by companies that do not have the critical mass or client base to invest in core infrastructure.  I've been there. The agency model always allows for nimble management and infusion of thinking from independent contractors with specific expertise, and a balance of stability and flexibility is best.  To say that the virtual agency is superior in all or most cases is untrue and, in my mind, bad advice.  The world is not black and white.  A little too much Hollywood in this article, I fear...

  2. Gregg Fisher from The Stem, June 2, 2015 at 12:49 p.m.

    Brian, thanks for your post. I agree that "a balance of stability and flexibilty is best." The question is what is that balance. And trends have favored a more networked (less centralized) model for years now because of growth in freelance talent, ease of remote talent identification & talent management, and changes in attitudes toward work. Core infrastructure is critical even in a networked model but overhead is leanly focused so client dollars are maximized and the emphasis is kept on the right talent versus "our talent". No model is superior in all cases - each has trade-offs - but the advantages of this approach in terms of specialization, flexibility, talent motivation and value can lead to superior results for many Health clients. Regarding critical mass, the netwoked model does scale and scale well: Check out this HBR article which highlights one such firm with 500 consultants Thanks again for the post!

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 2, 2015 at 6:49 p.m.

    Freelancing and independent contracting has screwed people out of benefits, from taxes and health to investment savings. It works when special projects hire a special project s company who hire people to work on various projects throughout the year. It can work when there are high end projects where independent contractors can earn a living. It hurts people when those employed are personally forced to take those jobs because they became cornered without other choices. Hollywood is notorious for unbalanced employment.

  4. Gregg Fisher from The Stem, June 2, 2015 at 7:02 p.m.

    Paula, well said. There is a downside when people freelance out of necessity versus choice. However, corporate job security (in all industries) has become fleeting and the freelance economy is the new reality. The independent consultants that thrive are those who realize that, cultivate specialized skills that let them attract innovative projects, and earn wages in excess of a corporate job. 

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