The February 3, 2014 Wall Street Journal article titled ‘Freelancers Find It Pays To Link Up’ brought long-awaited and much-needed validation to the business model that The Workman Company has been operating for the past 20 years. The article describes the growing trend of independent marketing practitioners banding together with other solo operators who have complementary skills—and marketing themselves as a one-stop shop for clients in innovative arrangements known as ‘hives.’ Here is the link:
Why might you ask that, after 20 years in business, that I feel the need for validation of my business model? I will answer this, but first a little background. The Workman Company started on ten days’ notice after Edelman Public Relations closed their St. Louis office and one of the national accounts that I managed followed me out on my own. I promised a full service PR agency working out of my house, which led me to retain the services of other solo practitioners in graphic design, video production, photography and website development. Within the first year I was operating what today is called a hive.
Fast forward twenty years and 40 clients later, and my hive is still pretty much intact, albeit some of the faces have changed. I also provide PR services to several other hives, so today I operate under two names: The Workman Company and Workman Communications Group, which is my hive. What hasn’t changed is the maddening lack of acceptance of this hive concept in the corporate world and among the larger agencies I compete against. I have been told countless times by prospective clients that they don’t like the hive concept. Of course they say it in nice ways, such as:
– “We want to see an office with people working together on our account.”
– “We prefer a larger agency with more infrastructure.”
– “Your bench is too short.”
Ironically, these are the very criticisms often leveled against larger agencies and their higher fees. Virtual offices are in vogue, as are the technologies that keep us well connected. Corporations know they can outsource marketing functions, which is why there are more solo practitioners today than ever before. So why the continued resistance to hives?
Perhaps hives should just call themselves agencies without walls. Because at the end of the day, what matters most are results, great client service and the lasting impression that agencies should not be measured by the size of their payroll.