Switching Sides
March 23, 2010 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Had the ad agency with whom I do freelance work won the account, I'd probably have work. But the Other Ad Agency got the account. Can I approach The Other Ad Agency to work on the account?

I'm a freelance art director. In the past year, I've done several projects with Wilson, Tong & Fourney, an advertising agency. We have a good working relationship--my work is good, the agency is happy, we refer work to each other, and the clients are happy. Over the past few years, Wilson, Tong & Fourney have thrown me a substantial amount of work and I believe I'm now their "go-to" guy when they need art direction. I don't have a non-compete agreement, and each job has its own contract. Recently, Wilson, Tong & Fourney were competing for a large account--had Wilson, Tong & Fourney won the account, they would probably have contacted me for my design skills.

Unfortunately, Wilson, Tong & Fourney didn't get the account. The account was won by Oderkirk/Mauser/Goldblatt, another firm with whom Wilson, Tong & Fourney compete for similar business. The nature of the advertising and branding work I do is somewhat specialized, so I would be a natural fit if Oderkirk/Mauser/Goldblatt need an art director for this account--and for this account, I am certain they will.

I would very much like to approach Oderkirk/Mauser/Goldblatt and offer my services to them--if not for this project, perhaps for one in the future--but I can't help feeling like a traitor to Wilson, Tong & Fourney. I do not want to damage or change my relationship with Wilson, Tong & Fourney, and the mood at their office is somewhat glum--they wanted and needed this account.

I have three questions:

1. Can I approach Oderkirk/Mauser/Goldblatt for this account? Remember, I don't have a non-compete agreement, and each job has its own contract. Also, most of my work to date has been for Wilson, Tong & Fourney, and Oderkirk/Mauser/Goldblatt would know this.

2. Would this affect my relationship with Wilson, Tong & Fourney? Do firms care if their contractors work for other firms, or would I be considered a "traitor" for going to their competitor? I also know I am not the only art director with whom Wilson, Tong & Fourney work, but I'm the one they turn to first. I don't want that to change.

3. How have other freelancers/contractors handled similar situations?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Because you are a freelancer, you have every right to go up and ask the others.

You are dealing with emotions here, especially with the office mood being all glum and all.

About being considered a traitor, that would depend on the guys at WT&F and their perspective. From what I understand advertising is cut throat so why shouldn't you go for it?
If the folks at WT&F are irrational, then you will lose business.

The best thing I would do is go ahead and talk to them and ask them if this is something that would affect your future business with them? Ask them to be frank with you. Ask them will you be someone who they will turn to second as opposed to first?

You have no guarantees that OMG would want you, you are only assuming so.
If OMG calls you, go for it, unless you have other things you want to be busy with.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 8:50 AM on March 23, 2010

1. Yes
2. Maybe. Depends on the personalities. What would be more likely to create bad blood would be if the new work you're doing for OMG would make you unavailable for work from WTF. But for them to get in a snit because you're working on that project, without it affecting your other work, would be infantile.
3. In my business (translation), there is a relatively large number of agencies and a relatively small number of freelancers. It's not all that rare for two agencies to be bidding on a single project, where the work would go to the same freelancer/s regardless of who won the bid.
posted by adamrice at 8:57 AM on March 23, 2010

You might want to ask to have the names of the firms removed from your question. Even though you're asking this anonymously, there's is sitll a lot of information here, and I'm guessing someone from one of the firms might be able to figure out who you are if they were to read this question.
posted by spaltavian at 8:57 AM on March 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

WTF & OMG.....

I see what you did there. ;-)

I agree with iNfo.Pump. One question to ask WTF is what the prospects are for future work. If they have something else coming down the pipe and they want to use you, now would be the time to tell you. Otherwise, see what you can work out with OMG, but know that they may have their own people already.

If WTF really wanted an exclusive relationship with you, there would be a no-compete clause or maybe even a direct position for you. It's not right or fair for them to expect you to starve because they can't give you work (and I don't think they do expect you to starve), so there should be no problem with talking to OMG.
posted by Doohickie at 8:58 AM on March 23, 2010

1. Yes, but see 2.

2. Totally depends on how the account was pitched for.

Did you collaborate with WTF on pitch materials? I work as a strategist at an ad agency, and we consider our work with freelancers to be collaborative -- the freelancer is hired and paid to work on the pitch, remunerated for that work, and the end result is "ours" (the agency's), even if the pitch is not the winning pitch. Our freelancers are bound by about eight kinds of confidentiality contracts (including incorporated non-compete clauses) and my eyebrow's rather arched over the fact that you don't have your signature on something similar. To the point that in your shoes, I'd be scouring everything I've signed to date for WTF to be sure of it.

If WTF pitched for the account by showing some old work of theirs (which may or may not have included some of your work-for-hire designs), and saying "hey we can totally handle this," (a) they're being kind of slack-assed about their pitches, and (b) they can't really complain if you are straight up with them about seeking OMG's business on this one.

If, however, you and WTF collaborated on the pitch for -- let's call them Lastlin, Oslow and Luck -- then you approaching OMG with not only your skills and specialized knowledge but also your part in what WTF brought to the table in the pitch stage would be, in my view as an "inside" agency guy, way off-base. You're not just saying "OMG, I have awesome skills," but "OMG, I have awesome skills and insights and strategies developed in collaboration with WTF in preparation for the pitch." If WTF paid you for that pitch work, this would not only be burning a bridge, it would also be collecting the bridge ashes, mixing them with cake batter, baking a delicious bridge-ash cake, eating said cake, and flinging the eventual bridge-ash-cake poop at WTF's windows. Maybe you have no intention of bringing any of that collaborative insight over to OMG, but WTF would be insane not to expect the worst.

Approach OMG about future projects? Hell, why not? You're a freelancer, not an employee. I'd consider it courteous, but not obligatory, if a freelancer approached me and said "I'm thinking about approaching some other agencies, some of which move in the same circles as you, about future work. If you think there's room for me full-time on your team, I'd love to discuss it before I start looking elsewhere." Gives me right of refusal, it's polite and decent, makes me (agency guy) feel like I have a say in things, and gives you full clearance to work with other parties. There might be an element of "shit, now even Anonymous is moving on to greener pastures" if I was having a bad week, but that's really not your problem.

Approaching OMG about this project: dodgy even if WTF pitched without a scrap of your involvement; if you were involved in seeking the Lastlin, Oslow and Luck account at all, especially if it involved developing new material for the pitch, I would consider this project at OMG as totally radioactive unless you were really, really confident you never wanted to work with WTF again.
posted by Shepherd at 9:42 AM on March 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Are you kidding? Go for it.
posted by xammerboy at 10:33 AM on March 23, 2010

As a freelance photographer I've encountered similar situations in the past, with as many as four agencies planning on using me if they got the project in question. In each case all of the agencies involved understood that the term "freelance" means that I work for myself.

To this day I've never been aware of any bad blood created.
posted by imjustsaying at 11:17 AM on March 23, 2010

Isn't this one of the major perks of being a freelancer in the first place? You go where the work is, you're a professional. If you clients don't understand that, you explain it to them in a professional manner.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:48 PM on March 23, 2010

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