“I think there is still fear that this is only the start and we will see more layoffs in 2023," says Roy Tan, a public and government relations specialist based in Singapore who, until a week ago, was working for Meta at their Asia-Pacific headquarters.
Tan was one of 11,000 Meta employees affected by job cuts that were announced by the tech giant's CEO Mark Zuckerberg over a video call earlier this month.
The Meta layoffs followed cuts at Twitter, which have now reached nearly 5,000 (66% per cent of staff), after controversial business magnate Elon Musk bought the company and almost immediately went on a firing frenzy. Amazon, Shopify, Shopee, Stripe, and others, have also made significant staff layoffs, with more expected to come next year.
Worldwide, more than 135,000 tech workers have lost jobs as a result of cutbacks by US tech companies, according to the Layoffs.fyi website.
Will agencies benefit from big tech's loss?
The economic downturn, increased competition, reduced advertiser spend, over hiring, CEOs with zero empathy, total upheaval... all have been floated as reasons why the layoffs happened.
But the bottom line is that a lot of people have lost their jobs, the market is now flooded with talent, and questions remain around where they will go next?
For those in marketing and comms roles, one possible outcome is that an exodus of talent from tech firms will return to agencies if agencies are now perceived to be safer.
"I think tech folks will still look for similar roles in tech," says Tan. "There's a certain allure and culture about tech companies/startups and it's hard to walk away from that. The fast paced nature of the industry as well as being able to work on meaningful work will still call to people."
Tan himself is taking a short break until the new year while considering options.
"There may be more competition between colleagues. I'm not so sure how many will go freelance as tech companies don't tend to hire freelancers as much in engineering and marketing roles," says Tan. "There are still tech companies growing and expanding. So they may get more candidates."
Is the future freelance?
Ever since the layoffs began, and continue to be announced, social media has been ablaze with threads and opinions on the impact it will have and repercussions for the industry.
"There is no job-security even if you are independent. In the era of digitalisation, our income is just a shutdown switch…” One netizen commented on LinkedIn.
Another mentioned that "working at a big company, there is this false perception of job security..."
Meanwhile, others have been suggesting freelancing as a means to have more control and broader job security. "Freelancing is scary, but it allows you to work with so many people from across the globe. You create your own job security and no one else..." a netizen wrote.
So what is the future? Tash Menon, managing director & founder of Mash, who only works with freelance teams, believes the future is most definitely freelance.
"I heard a great quote once: 'freelancing today is what e-commerce was in the 1980s,'" says Menon. "Over the next few years, over 50% of the global advertising industry will be freelance and at Mash we’ve found that at a certain point in a creative’s career, they seek the freedom to choose work that fulfils them. Combining professional and industry experience with personal interests, lends to a more engaged and results-focused workforce.”
Mash is already one step ahead and operates a different set-up to most traditional agencies, working with freelance teams from around there world, rather than one central team of staff.
"At Mash we build freelance creative teams that move without bureaucracy or fat, meaning they work at the pace that brands today need them to," says Menon. "There is also less demand for a generalist mindset; global brands are seeking now not only specialist creative expertise, but have realised great work doesn’t have to be on your doorstep – the world today has an appetite for different experiences and different perspectives – making the full-service style of agency feel not only outdated, but redundant.”
Job security has always been poor in this industry
"The moment the economy tanks, our industry is the first to feel the pinch," says Antti Toivonen, managing Partner of Superson APAC, a creative agency that works with freelance talent. "This is now happening for the second time in three years so people are obviously looking for ways to build resilience for themselves."
Toivonen manages Superson's APAC office, and has built the company revolving around freelancers or 'liquid teams' as he describes them.
"Superson's model is more about the teams, not so much what an individual freelancer can do. Even when there are countless actors out there, there’s a reason why every movie is played by their cast. It’s about skills, passions, personality match – and a shared journey," says Toivonen.
Another benefit of working with freelancers, says Toivonen, is that many good ones leave the traditional agency world at some point to strike on their own.
"There is plenty of great young talent who wouldn’t join an agency 9-5 because the pull of those places is not there anymore. Those are people with true flare, and hence these are the people our clients want to work with. So as agencies, we need to think about how to keep things fresh for the people we want to work with."
How can freelancers stand out amid increased competition?
Menon believes that any great freelancer knows where their strengths and weaknesses lie.
"As a freelancer, you need to be able to identify what makes you unique – what are your core competencies, what is your secret sauce and where have you shown continual demonstrated success," says Menon. "You need to be clear on how your time, your experience and ultimately your skills can directly relate to driving the results a brand is looking to achieve.”
And Toivonen at Superson believes that freelancing is the future for those who are passionate enough to do it. However, he stresses that being a great freelancer is a skill of its own and it must be a conscious choice, and not one that you just drift into.
"When mastered, freelancing has good job security. You won’t fire yourself – but you do need a good network and you have to be good at what you do," says Toivonen. "It’s for doers, not talkers, and building a good reputation takes time. But when you are truly good at what you do, the itch to go solo grows stronger."