Ireland’s freelancers have been hit hard but we’ve built a platform to help them find work

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Peter McPartlin and Úna Herlihy work in Irish media and have built The Indie List to link up employers with creative freelancers.

IF I HAD a euro for every time I’ve heard the phrases “re-adjusting to the new normal” or “pivoting our business model” in recent weeks, I would be a very rich buachaill!

The lockdown has thankfully begun to lift and the crisis has caused every enterprise to ‘re-adjust’ or ‘pivot’ but isn’t that the nature of business anyway – tailoring and changing course to match the circumstances and demands of customers?

The advertising, media and creative services sector isn’t one that would naturally be front and centre in the minds of the public or policymakers, as one in need of help after the Covid-19 catastrophe.

But believe me, the component parts of the sector and more importantly the community of workers it employs, have been hit hard and this has major implications for the development of Irish brands, the funding of Irish media and the promotion of our distinctive cultural identity.

An estimated €370m is likely to be wiped from the overall value of the Irish media industry this year. Recent reports of media closures, staff cutbacks and moves from print to online are lead indicators of things to come.

This will inevitably have a major impact on the industry’s knowledge and talent base but especially amongst the large parallel community of freelance professionals, without the ‘big company’ safety net, which the media and related industry has always depended on to function.

Who are the freelancers?

Freelancers suffered an economic ‘double whammy’ from Covid-19 because their traditional bread and butter revenue stream from SMB’s: (small and medium businesses and start-ups) also dried up.

These are the people whose often-uncredited work graces the many TV and radio stations, reviews and opinion pieces that we admire; the ad breaks, poster ads, websites and social media content that we engage with and the brand packaging and logos of products and services that we buy.

Freelancers are not represented by IBEC, ISME, IAPI, IBI nor any of the sectoral lobby groups who have the collective weight and wherewithal to fight the cause of their members.

In a big-hearted response to help this group, my friend, Úna Herlihy, an ad agency consultant, set out to create a database of freelance professionals whose work levels had been impacted by the pandemic. The initial response to what was originally called “The List” was extremely positive from existing freelancers and industry experts who had been recently let go as well as small indie shops and agencies looking for work.

Together with Úna, we set out a vision for a new type of marketplace where agencies and clients could easily access a curated list of some of the best independent talents across the Irish market, either on a project or long-term basis.

We put a plan together, agreed our set of principles for how we believe it should serve customers, raided our own savings, and started to map out a structure for a business which would become the primary source of matching talent with communications challenges. We did this with no outside funding and without meeting in person because of lockdown restrictions – Úna based in Kilkenny and me in Dublin.

How this works

The service launched recently as The Indie List with the help of a superb freelance web designer, Kris Byers and the incredible generosity of other freelancers.

As of now, 180 people have signed up across a wide range of disciplines, including content creators, copywriters, art and creative directors, SEO experts, digital specialists, photographers, brand strategists, videographers, content creators, UX/UI specialists, web developers and media consultants.

More importantly, we have been given a range of project briefs which will result in new funding for freelancers who might otherwise not have been on the radar. We are confident that this is an idea whose time has come and serves a real need in the local market.

As Úna has said: “We have created The Indie List to be ready for the disruption in our sector in the months ahead and to hopefully act as a way to keep as many people as possible actively engaged and paid fairly for their skills.”

The lesson for us in all of this is that, amid the gloom, there are still opportunities for new enterprises to emerge and for existing businesses to I suppose, ‘pivot’ or ‘re-adjust’.

We are a resourceful nation and while the pandemic has frightened most of us, I think it has renewed the sense of community and optimism amongst people right across indigenous businesses that we can get through this if we help each other and try to build something that’s worthwhile and for the greater good.

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Peter McPartlin is a freelance marketing and media consultant, chairs the Irish music station, PlayIrish, and the online media planning & buying platform, BuyMedia. You can register free for The Indie List at www.indielist.ie.

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