Robert Sawatzky
May 14, 2019

Freelance-based agency Superson launches in Singapore

Inspired by the rise in self-employment and the shared economy, Finland-based independent touts a more agile agency model while bringing strategist Martin Roll on as an advisor.

Antti Toivonen and Martin Roll
Antti Toivonen and Martin Roll

A Finnish creative agency that relies on teams of freelancers rather than agency staff is opening for business in Singapore. The shop here will be led by managing partner and creative director Antti Toivonen, who has worked in Singapore over the past 10 years as a creative director for agencies like TBWA, Ogilvy and R/GA.

Toivonen has hired a yet-to-be announced business director and is building out a team of producers and client service directors in Singapore to manage a larger network of freelancers in Southeast Asia that Superson refers to as 'specialists'.

Like Superson's home base in Helsinki, the agency selects specialists from a pool of hundreds of freelance consultants for specific projects. Since most clients are brands and all work is marketing-based, many of these are 'specialists' are copywriters and art directors, but they can also be skills trainers or expert consultants in certain fields, like broadcasting or cybersecurity. Unlike a straight talent-matching service, however, these projects are fully managed.

The model purports to improve cost-efficiency for clients without fixed overhead and with flexibility for employees, who are paid fees by project and not by day rates. While clients may still pay a retainer, most work will be project-based.

How disruptive is it?

Having set up shop in a shared workspace, Toivonen told Campaign Asia-Pacific he sees the firm changing up the marketing agency business, much like Airbnb brought more options to the lodging industry.

"People have started to recognise this shift towards self-employment and a creative sharing economy. It can be quite troublesome for large companies to tap into because they’re dealing with finding individuals. So many companies are happy if they can plug into that wave," he told Campaign.

Himself a freelancer, Toivonen added in a release, "I saw first-hand how the best talent started switching to self-employment. That’s where the world is headed, and we are here to embrace and enable this shift."

Of course, claiming to disrupt is one thing, but making it work well is quite another. Agencies already hire freelancers for many projects and continue to evolve their models towards more flexiible work arrangements.

"Everyone used freelancers to a degree, but the way they're used is quite different," Toivonen told Campaign. "The big difference here is being quite transparent about it. And the moment you don't have a single creative on your payroll, it really changes the dynamic compared to keeping a department of people busy."

Brand marketers, meanwhile, will often stress the importance of trusted marketing teams who have invested the time in truly knowing and understanding the brand inside and out. Parachuting-in freelancers may be efficient, but could lead to creative disconnects.

Here, Toivonen points to their experience in Finland, where some clients use their service to build a team, then continue to work with the same group for five years or more if both sides enjoy working with one another, but the flexibility is there.

"What wouldn’t happen with us is that there’s a big pitch for a project and we put the A-star people to do the presentations. Then, when the project is in it’s thrown to a different team. That’s not going to happen with us because the project will always be with the people you buy into."

In Singapore, however, Toivonen has a ways to go before that can happen. He's completed a few client projects while testing the model and while there will be some client announcements soon, he has yet to develop a full client roster.

Hoping to help with that, Superson has brought in brand and business strategist Martin Roll as a senior advisor to the firm, who can also work with Superson clients, especially family-owned businesses and those looking to expand in Asia.

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