THIS FEMALE-LED POWERHOUSE IS SETTING OUT TO DISRUPT THE BRAND-AGENCY-FREELANCER MODEL

THE AKIN

THIS FEMALE-LED POWERHOUSE IS SETTING OUT TO DISRUPT THE BRAND-AGENCY-FREELANCER MODEL

ShapeShiftReport_TheAkin_TheImpactIssue
The Akin_Shape Shift Report_The Impact Issue
 

The Akin is - Anna, Helen and Sarah - we are a trio of global insight and strategy specialists with 30 years collective experience. Between us we have led innovation, future trends and creative projects for a wide range of brands from Nike and Sonos to Pernod Ricard and even Virgin Galactic.

 

After working with numerous agencies in both permanent and freelance capacities, we found ourselves becoming increasingly frustrated by the dishonesty around the agency model. In our work we are constantly educating our clients on the need for transparency and agility, yet agency models themselves are rigid, outdated and cloaked in mystery. It always confused us that future forecasting and innovation agencies were sometimes the most backwards internally.

 

We come from research backgrounds so decided to look into this further. We began by informally surveying our colleagues, friends and global network and were quite dismayed by some of the tales we heard so started to explore the idea further. We read a lot of studies on freelancers, and the projections of industry trends and became convinced there had to be a better way. Now we are up and running the response has been phenomenal - like we have pulled back a curtain - and so are planning an in-depth quant survey of the global freelance market so we can have our own robust data to back up our findings.

 

The traditional agency model sees senior staff pitch for a project, the client commissions a project believing this is who will work on the project and that the agency has the resource and experience in-house. The agency then hires a freelancer to complete the work - due to low resources or lack of internal expertise. The freelancer is hidden from the client, and has to complete the project using secondary information with little support and few resources.

 

The agency also hides the true worth of the project from the freelancer and 98% of freelancers are forced to negotiate their day rates. On average a freelancer is paid only 40% of the charged agency fee. Not to mention that often getting paid takes so much time and effort on behalf of the freelancer, that they go months without having their invoices cleared.

 

 All of this convinced us it was time for a change and for our part we want to try and rebuild trust in the creative industries. We have created a new operating model that puts transparency and humanity at the centre of everything we do.


One of the things that most interested us when researching the future of work is the idea of permeable teams - that there is no one perfect team - they must morph and adapt on a project basis. The Akin pitch for a project and when the client commissions a project we activate the Next of Kin (NOK) network, if needed, to find the right talent for the individual project. The Next of Kin (NOK) is a global network of talented and trusted consultants. Our NOK consultants are rated by their specialism and experience level, day rates are set and non-negotiable. We have personally worked with each NOK consultant, ensuring we only engage the best talent. We are completely transparent with the client as to who is working on their project and with the freelancer as to how much their time is worth.

We know we will ruffle some feathers - we already have. The traditional agency model (of high overheads and underpaying talent) is well established, but we truly believe the future of work is about bringing together the best selection of minds to create innovative solutions.

 
 

Meet the Founders

 
Sarah Johnson_The Akin_Shape Shift Report_The Impact Issue

Sarah Johnson

 

What’s your full-time hustle?

Being a troublemaker, exploring the world and running The Akin with two amazing ladies and our network of freelancers. So grateful to be able to say that!

 

How did you get your start in the industry?

I studied fashion, then industrial design and during university was lucky enough to be introduced to WGSN and then The Future Laboratory when they started. I created a very forward thinking MA project, which won some awards and garnered attention and I was offered a job at SeymourPowell an innovation agency in their Foresight team a week after my course ended. I moved to London and never looked back.

 

When did you become a part of The Akin?

The Akin was created after a Prosecco fuelled chat after a very bad week. That led to lots of plans being made and a lot of months of talks but we officially launched in July.

 

What do you hope to change through your involvement in The Akin?

We want to shake up the industry, as Eleanor Roosevelt said ‘well-behaved women seldom make history’. I have worked both at an agency and freelance and in both roles saw flaws in the operating model for employing freelancers. We want to educate the industry; both agency, brands and freelancers on the future of work, on the worth of talent and on the power of open collaboration. We want to be part of the change that needs to happen.

 

At what point in your career did you realise that something was wrong with the current brand-agency-freelancer model?

Very early on, in my first job we used freelancers but their role was always confusing. To give that agency credit they always paid people fairly and on time. That can’t be said for a lot of agencies I have worked for since then. As the years have gone on and I became a freelancer myself the disconnect and frictions became clearer. I have been hidden from clients, given second hand and bad communication, paid extremely unfairly and extremely late. After airing this with friends it became obvious it was time for a change, enter The Akin.

 

Best piece of advice you've ever been given?

‘Always try something, you only truly regret the things you didn’t do’. That was given to me after announcing to my family my plans for leaving a very respected job. My parents being as amazingly supportive as they are, convinced me to resign with that lovely titbit.

 

Where can we find you?

Digitally @sazzlej100 on Insta.
Physically in Peckham, big up the south east massive.
Mentally daydreaming about my next tropical adventure, I famously don’t do cold.

 
Helen Job_The Akin_Shape Shift Report_The Impact Issue

Helen Job

 

What's your full-time hustle?

The Akin is my full-time hustle, aside from teaching at LCF and being a mum to my two awesome kids.

 

How did you get your start in the industry?

I began my career as a fashion journalist and stylist. I then spent a little bit of time writing about music, style and culture until a friend told me about WGSN and I realised I could get paid to travel the world and discover trends, which was basically my hobby. I’ve been doing it for over 10 years now and never get bored as am always looking for the new and next.

 

When did you become a part of The Akin?

I officially joined The Akin in July but have been talking to these brilliant ladies for some time.

 

What do you hope to change through your involvement in The Akin?

I’ve been on all sides of the equation: agency, client and consultant and over the years I have observed so many systems and processes that seem to actually make things harder and less agile and generally hinder creativity. As a woman in senior management I’ve also been talked over in meetings and mansplained to more times than I care to mention. I want to do great work with people I respect and who respect me. I also want to surface great talent and ideas and make sure the freelance talent we collaborate with is recognised and rewarded accordingly.

 

At what point in your career did you realise that something was wrong with the current brand-agency-freelancer model?

From the beginning. The system is fundamentally flawed and in my experience it seems to be getting worse not better. When you see seniors show up to pitch meetings with no intention of working on a project, freelancers being made to feel their reasonable day rates are extortionate, and finance teams celebrating their ability to keep contractors at bay you know it’s time to disrupt the system. I’ve been criticised my whole career for being too “maternal and nurturing” to my team. Yet, it is proven that these athena traits are what make for successful project teams.

 

Best piece of advice you've ever given?

You can’t change how people are or how they behave, you can only change how it makes you feel. Trite but so true.

 

Where can we find you? 

I am Gen X so my social presence is minimal. Generally I’ll be in East London, but given the choice I’d be in Lisbon, Berlin or Amsterdam on a sunny day.

 
Anna Lappenkuper_The Akin_Shape Shift Report_The Impact Issue

Anna Lappenküper

What's your full-time hustle?

The Akin, together with two amazing partners.

 

How did you get your start in the industry?

My career has been somewhat varied - starting as a ballet dancer in Manchester, moving into design, then working in software and then going back to University to do a MSC. However, the constant has always been creativity, either doing something creative myself or working with amazingly talented creative minds.

 

When did you become a part of The Akin?

One evening a few months ago, after a particularly bad week. Thus officially, since our launch in July.

 

What do you hope to change through your involvement in The Akin?

The Akin on its own won’t be able to change anything. Change can only happen when we pull together and take a stand. My involvement in The Akin, is me taking a stand together with my partners. I know that not everyone will like what I, or we have to say, but that’s how it goes. You have to start somewhere in order to create change and I hope that we can be one piece of the puzzle which brings more transparency, honesty and humanity to the brand-agency-freelancer model.

 

At what point in your career did you realise that something was wrong with the current brand-agency-freelancer model?

I realised this fairly quickly and was always stunned by the fact that a lot of people thought it was normal. But it’s not normal, it really isn’t. Since when is it common practice not to pay someone for their labour and even joke about it? You don’t leave a shop without paying, so why would you treat freelance talent differently?

 

Best piece of advice you've ever given?

Do it.

 

Where can we find you?

www.theakin.com or in Berlin