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It's a hard-knock life

By Peter McPartlin

Some weeks back I wrote about the revenue impact that the Covid crisis is having on the Irish media sector. An estimated '370m is likely to be wiped from the overall value of the industry this year. The recent reports of publishers closing down, moving from print to online or opting for examinership, are perhaps lead indicators of things to come.

Clearly there are implications from this massive drop in revenue for the type of media sector that we may end up with it here and in particular the knock-on impact on our politics, society and culture. But to a large extent this is very much an abstract argument as it only hints at the impact on the industry's knowledge and talent base.

A recent study done by marketing recruitment agency, Alternatives, said that 15 per cent of marketers have been made redundant or laid off on a short or long-term basis as a result of the virus and 13 per cent are working on reduced hours. This almost certainly understates the level across the broader marketing services sector.

To their credit, most agencies and media companies have been very respectful of their workers, both in terms of pay and other supports. But there is a large parallel community of freelance professionals without those safety nets, which our industry has always depended on to function smoothly.

They provide a breadth and depth of creativity, craft and brain power which thankfully still can't be replicated by AI. Their often-uncredited work graces the ad breaks, print ads, websites and social media content that we're exposed to; the brand packaging and logos of products and services that we buy; and the many Irish TV and radio shows, written reviews and opinion pieces that we admire.

Most of them were formerly with agencies, publishers, broadcasters or on the client-side and come with years of wisdom, expertise and drive. They are not represented by IBEC, ISME, IAPI, the IBI nor any of the sectoral lobby groups who have the collective weight and wherewithal to fight the cause of their members.

As the industry contracts, it is almost inevitable that the ranks of this freelance community will be swelled over the coming months, by even more talented individuals as not everybody wants to work for Big Tech. Freelancing is not a lifestyle choice for everyone. It can be a precarious way to earn a living with no guarantee of regular work or being paid properly. But the freelance life can also be a hugely liberating and stimulating alternative for many.

With the new challenges facing Irish business, agencies, clients and media owners will increasingly need experienced freelancers to add bandwidth, boost productivity and to drive new thinking within their organisations. Let''s ensure that the intellectual and creative capital of the freelance sector is nourished, supported and fairly rewarded to enable them to do so. 

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