The chic couture and the martini lunches (and brunches and dinners) of Mad Men have always been part of the lore surrounding the world of advertising agencies. And, by default, any type of communication agency. But it’s not the reality in 2022—and it hasn’t been for a very long time.
However, the structure of Sterling Cooper—the fictional agency where much of the action takes place in the AMC series—is familiar to anyone who’s ever worked for or with an agency. But is it the right model for clients in today’s marketplace? Does it meet their needs? Can it be as agile as it needs to be? The answer is simple: NO. And this is why more and more forward-thinking, client-focused medical communications agencies are rejecting the traditional agency model and opting for one that serves their clients more effectively and more efficiently. One that reduces overhead and connects the best talent to the work. It’s a model driven by the use of independent contractors (or freelancers)—particularly when it comes to content development. And it’s working incredibly well for medical communications agencies and their clients.
Top Talent for Every Project
Consider this: If you had an electrical issue at your house, who would you call? A handyman? Or a licensed electrician? It’s a no-brainer, right? Even though the handyman might be excellent, you still want the person who has experience and training specifically related to electricity. The same is true of your medical communication needs.
When agencies hire full-time copywriters and medical writers who work on medical content, they’re essentially locking themselves (and their clients) into a specific level of talent, skill, and knowledge. It’s not that these writers aren’t competent or can’t produce good work. But is it the best work for every project?
“We work with clients who are in a variety of therapeutic areas,” said Jeff Morrison, vice president of strategic solutions at Medical Leverage. “It’s impossible for one person to be an expert in all of those spaces. But an expert is exactly what we need on every project and what our clients deserve. So, we’ve identified freelancer talent that have extensive medical writing experience in specific therapeutic areas, and we call on them when we have a project that they’re the right fit for.”
By doing this, the need for training is essentially erased. “The freelancers we work with are able to hit the ground running on day one of a project,” said Carl Roselle, vice president of strategic development at Medical Leverage. “There’s no ramping up period. The time and expense this saves can’t be overstated.”
Additionally, different types and styles of writing are need for different projects. For example, some projects require medical writing for content used in journals. However, other projects—such as sales materials, email campaigns, and blog posts—are likely to be more effective if written by a healthcare copywriter. Medical writing and healthcare copywriting are two very different skills and most writers excel in one of the two areas—but rarely both. Using freelancers gives an agency the ability to assign the right writer with the right project.
Another benefit of retaining top talent on an as-needed basis is that it increases an agency’s ability to be more agile. “Our clients’ needs are changing all of the time,” said Roselle. “And this means we have to change to meet those needs and that has to happen now—not next week. We’re able to do that seamlessly due to our connections with freelance writers who are the very best at what they do. And we’re also not locked into using freelancers who are nearby. With the help of technologies such as video conferencing and online project management platforms, we’re able to bring in the best talent from any place in the world.”
But what about dependability? If an agency is working with freelance writers instead of full-time employees, what kind of oversight is there? How do you know the work is going to get done? “It’s all about thorough screening in the beginning,” explained Morrison. “We always ask to see a freelancer’s portfolio if we’re bringing them on for creative work. And, for any freelancer, we ask that references be provided before we hire them for a project. We also have full-time content strategists who play a major role in the hiring process and who oversee the work of freelancers.”
The other secret to building a dependable, talented, and engaged pipeline of freelance writers is to focus on relationship building. “Even though they’re not employees, the freelancers we work with on a regular basis know that we value them and the work they do,” said Roselle. “We focus on building long-term relationships with them rather than just looking at them as a one-and-done. That’s why we have so many freelancers who have been with us for years—some for more than a decade.”
Lower Agency Overhead Costs = Lower Client Fees
In the traditional agency model, copywriters and medical writers are typically hired as full-time employees. And that means they get paid whether their assigned clients are active or not.
It’s an expensive model in every way and that’s how it’s been since—well—pretty much forever. So, if you’re wondering why agency fees keep going up—but the quality of the work often doesn’t—here’s one of the main reasons: overhead costs.
By working with freelance writers, medical communication agencies can cut overhead expenses exponentially. In most cases, these individuals are hired on a 1099 basis—which means no employer benefits of any kind are provided, no taxes are withheld on the freelancer’s behalf, and no unemployment insurance is paid on their earnings.
There’s also no salary to be paid. Instead, independent contractors typically work on either an hourly or flat fee schedule on a per project basis. This means they’re only being paid for work they’re actually doing on a specific project. Once the project is completed and the freelancer has been paid, the financial relationship between them and the agency ends. This stands in stark contrast to full-time employees who are getting paid whether they have work to do or not.
Additionally, because most freelancers don’t work on site, there’s no need for an agency to provide office space for them. This allows agencies to keep their physical footprint to a minimum—which is a priority considering the soaring costs of real estate. And many freelancers prefer to use their own gear—such as computers. So, there’s no need for the agency to purchase additional equipment, office supplies, software, etc.
When a medical communications agency is saving on overhead costs by using freelance writers and medical writers, that should translate into lower costs for clients. And that’s a win for everyone.
The Freelancer Advantage
Medical communications agencies who are working with freelancers are positioning themselves to break free of the limitations imposed by the traditional agency model. And, in turn, they’re able to provide their clients more innovative solutions, more affordable fees, more customized approaches, and more remarkable results.
Different audience needs. Different communication channels. Different content types. Different therapies. Different venues. So many things about medical communications are changing. To successfully navigate this ongoing transformation, working with an agency that’s nimble, that brings the top talent to every project, and that views affordability as a given is so critical. And this is why the next time you interview an agency, be sure to ask them, “Do you use freelance writers?” If the answer is “yes”—that’s a very good start.
Would you like to know more about how our content development model can help you? Contact Carl Roselle at CRoselle@medicalleverage.com to discuss your needs and to learn how we might be able to work together.