The Creative Response: How Freelancers and Agencies Are Adapting During COVID-19
Apr 20, 2020
“How will creatives adjust during the worst pandemic in 100 years?”
We’ve asked ourselves that question every day at Soundstripe since COVID-19 began putting the global economy in a stranglehold.
Yet amidst all the noise, the plight of creatives has gone relatively unnoticed — despite over 50 million Americans working as freelancers.
It’s a paradox, really. Creative work moves people. It demands attention. But in moments like these the people behind the work — you, the creators — can take a backseat.
Like Nicholas Chee, an executive producer in Singapore, told Vice, “The freelance industry is unique because the projects we are involved in are very visible. But the people behind them? We are very invisible.”
So we decided to find out how you’re doing, because we want to give your stories the attention they deserve. We surveyed over 300 freelance videographers and agency creatives to ask them a few questions about how they’re dealing with and adapting to this historic challenge.
Reason for Hope
There’s no debating the depth of the crisis we’re facing.
There was a lot of uncertainty in the stories we read. But in the face of uncertainty and crisis, there were also stories that contained real hope.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising.
Ingenuity and creativity are cornerstones of human history and commerce. (And they’re skills robots may never master.) In the responses to our survey, we met people determined to adapt to this new circumstance, use their skills to find new ways to earn income, and broaden their creative repertoire.
These are the stories we’ve decided to focus on, because we believe they can help those creatives who need a bit of direction, or some new ideas about what to do next. There’s no way around the turmoil, but the only way forward is through positive action.
We hope these stories offer some comfort and guidance.
We’ve also compiled a list of resources just for creatives. These range from new projects to keep your skills sharp or grants and other types of aid you can apply for if you need financial assistance.
How COVID-19 Is Affecting Freelance Videographers & Creative Agencies
With live events temporarily abolished and brands reeling back their creative budgets, freelance videographers and creative agencies are in the middle of a maelstrom of change.
A survey by the Freelancer’s Union found 85% of freelance visual artists and photographers report contract cancellations. 91% expect to lose income.
In an effort to understand how much had work has actually been lost, we asked this group a couple of questions about their professional lives.
1. What percentage of projects have you lost due to COVID-19 over the period of the next three months?
The reality is stark: work is vanishing. 54% of respondents said they’d lost between 76% and 100% of their projects over the next three months.
Still, the other 46% have maintained some of their work, which is a silver lining, but there are members of our community who have fallen on exceptionally hard times. Here’s how they’re adjusting:
"Luckily my job as a content creator was suspended. We were just sent home to work indefinitely. During this time I try to limit myself in non-productive indulgence such as binge watching or the endless scrolling of social media.
Instead, I try to focus on what makes me want to do more, be more, and become more. Looking to any avenue of creativity to commit my time to, like collaborating with other musicians on music ideas and arrangements. I also brainstorm and storyboard video ideas with other creators that are in my network.
Taking this time to focus on things I’ve always wanted to do and pushing myself to do them. Creativity has never been more needed in our community and I intend to play as big a role as I can to inspire and motivate the people around me."
Videographer & Photographer l Braxmp.com
"We work primarily in creating live experiences and part of my job is to capture that work through photography and video. But because of the bans on public gatherings and the ever evolving public health crisis that is the result of COVID-19, we've been thinking of new ways to be more creative in this time period.
So we've started brainstorming and are ramping up video production by doing things like explainer videos in the style of what you might see on Vox Media's Explained. We're also building pieces that showcase our people and creating profiles on them and their expertise in the live events world.
In lieu of being able to conduct these interviews in real life, we're using Zoom to help as well as capturing voice overs instead. We're also looking for new collaborations and hoping to do more video production/post-production now and after this thing passes!"
Content Producer l Production Glue
"We are a summer camp and retreat center, and have been hit really hard. We usually host retreats and school groups throughout the spring, and all of the groups have had to cancel. This has resulted in a substantial loss of income.
As the marketer and creative producer for the camp, I’ve made this into a fun and fruitful time for me! Now more than ever I have been granted a lot of free time to try out some things that I never had the margin for.
One of my favorite things we have created is MCPtv, a YouTube game show named after a summer camp event called Morning Camp Party. Every day during the summer at 11:11 a.m. all the campers gather together to sing silly songs, play fun games, and watch funny skits. MCPtv has been incredibly well received by our campers and parents, who love that we are providing a brief reprieve for their kids every day.
We are planning to parlay the success of MCPtv into other camp related content that parents and kids will enjoy. My next project is to create a series of videos highlighting our Adventure Education program. These videos will be science-based lessons that parents can use as a part of their home-school programming. We're going to produce worksheets and activities alongside the videos.
While this pandemic has definitely been frustrating, I am taking the opportunity to explore new ways to create content and engage with our campers in a meaningful way!
Creative Director l New Life Ranch
If your company furloughed you, it might be time to pursue some of your passions.
If not, work out how to apply your skills to fully-digital projects. How can you translate — and monetize — your work in new or creative ways? Perhaps that’s creating educational material to share what you know, or it might be collaborating with other creatives to expand your network.
2. Which of these best describes your current situation relative to the pandemic?
The responses to the second question give us a bit more perspective on the first. Although more than half of people had lost work for the upcoming three months, that hadn’t necessarily meant they had to shut up shop.
Tragically, that is reality for 25% of our respondents. If that’s you, know that we hear. We read your stories. And we compiled resources at the end of this report with you in mind.
Still, while the amount of creative work has dwindled, it seems there is still some opportunity and demand in the market. So what’s the secret for the freelancers and creative agencies staying above water?
Here’s what they shared:
"It's been tough out there for sure, I'm thankful our company has been able to stay relatively busy in spite of the challenges. While some of our clients have hit pause on jobs which has meant we've had less work for our freelance team, we've had a couple clients that have leaned in twice as hard; using this time as a way to engage a larger audience online with messages of hope.
Creatively we're producing more stock footage, voice over-type pieces for our clients and we're beginning to research ways to produce videos remotely. Some of our producers have also gone to great lengths to film smaller scenes with only one person while trying to maintain the social distancing guidelines.
A lot of these new rules we have to follow can make things tougher, but they can also create opportunities for ingenuity.
Keep pushing everyone, be a light. We're almost there."
Creative Director l Firetribe.tv
"I’ve focused on my current clients that might be struggling as a resource. By doing that, it turned into new business with more videos. Shorter videos and website enhancing. Also re-edits of previous shot footage for client social media posts.
It’s also been a great time to regroup on our business and plan for the future.
Owner, Digital Media Producer l Gibby Visuals
“My company has the ability to do video remotely, and I’m trying to get the word out. I’ve been wrapping up a bunch of projects that were in the works, while creating a new website for the remote capabilities. I feel busier than ever, but a slowdown is inevitable.
With the downtime I’m offering to create video content to help struggling businesses stay in front of their audiences and be poised to respond during the recovery period. We are planning a video of ourselves using takeout service from a restaurant that we love that just opened, trying to involve the staff to film the food prep so we can cut it all together.”
Director, Editor & Producer l Oh Shoot Productions
“We created a livestream version of a client’s biggest event of the year by partnering with another video agency that specializes in livestreaming. In between each presentation we had a graphic with a countdown timer that told the audience who was up next.
With companies having to cancel their live events, livestream events are in high demand right now. It's just a small pivot in a new direction that has allowed us to have consistent work despite a huge slowdown in the economy.”
If you have a catalogue of clients, stay closer to them than ever. Explore how they’re dealing with the crisis, and brainstorm solutions that can help them.
You should also stay plugged into the cultural shifts in digital media. Online events are everywhere, but digital content consumption is also soaring. If you're a photographer, can you develop stock photo packages to sell? Or if you’re a designer, can you look for custom website work?
There are fewer opportunities for sure, but they do still exist. To find them, you probably have to find brand new ways to apply your skills to the current market demand.
3. Do you specialize in any of the following areas?
To get a better idea of exactly who we’re talking to, we asked about the forte(s) of our respondents. (For clarity, they could answer more than once.)
Wedding videos was the second highest, which aligns with the first question about project loss. Of course this industry will be hard hit. When people aren’t supposed to leave their homes, weddings will get canceled, and the creatives who help record these events will be affected.
The same could be said for live events, which clocked in as the third highest response. But look at the livestreaming services category. It’s the second lowest response. And guess where demand is skyrocketing?
Even if you don’t think you have skills that translate to livestreaming, now is the time to start ideating about how to make that transition. It’s going to be one of the main lifelines for creatives for the next few months.
Resources and Relief
Sometimes ingenuity just isn’t enough. Economic forces become too titanic, and people just need help. Here's a (constantly growing) list of resources creatives can use to apply for financial aid, search for new opportunities, and just look for projects to keep you working, learning, and staying sharp.