Technology Doing Good in The Creative Industry
2021 is the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, and UNESCO estimates that the creative economy shrunk by $750bn due to the pandemic.
(sources cited here)
Given that and the pandemeic-driven acceleration of digital technologies in content creation and distribution, I wondered what challenges and opportunities lie ahead for talent and the brands or agencies that are trying to find new, diverse, reputable support.
Searching LinkedIn for experts and companies to speak with, I discovered Russell Glenister.
Russell has been in the business of sourcing and supporting creative talent for more than 30 years, and is currently an investor and founder of a number of startups in this space.
One that caught my eye is Curation Zone. It was the LinkedIn description that grabbed my attention:
“Using AI to match filmmakers with Brands, Curation Zone leads the World in content creation analytics”
As I started looking into it, it was more than analytics, and I was intrigued. Curation Zone claims to use AI algorithms to solve many of the problems that I touched on in the article on my website, so I thought I’d find out more.
Getting Lost in the Noise
Curation Zone sets out to make it easier for talented, accomplished and rising talent to be discovered by brands and agencies with as little effort as possible.
Speaking with Russell he describes a world where incumbents of times before the Internet have adapted their legacy business models to the digital era, but in doing so have created fragmentation and inconsistency. This fragmentation has been amplified in today’s world where the pandemic has accelerated virtualisation, digital delivery and worker distribution.
In this new era, driven in part by the growth of the gig-economy, platforms like Fiverr and UpWork have applied a reverse auction model to creative talent, driving pricing down, and attracting a much broader, less specialised and experienced talent pool.
With so many platforms, it has become harder for creatives to consistently represent themselves in their best light. For example, as mentioned above I had forgotten about my About.Me page, and the information there was a decade out of date. Also, earlier this year I had job offer from a gig platform that I set up in 2009. Needless to say the job was quite far removed from what I do today.
“We found that around 25% of creative talent on Behance had almost no history of experience in their stated role.”Russell Glenister, Curation Zone
It’s not just harder for the workers, it’s harder for the agencies to efficiently find the best talent, too. They have to search numerous platforms and conduct their own normalisation and harmonisation of the data presented, making important judgement calls on partial and sometimes incomplete information.
Coupled with this platform fragmentation, the over-abundance of workers and diversity in credentials has led to a marketplace that is flooded with both highly skilled and under-skilled talent, all racing to get a job that is often underpriced — and paying a (sometimes exorbitant) fee to the platforms for the privilege.
Reverse Auction Benefits Faceless Platforms not Creative Workers
If we’re thinking about SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), then the benefits of this new-era, platform-driven model seem to favour the buyer and platforms, more than the workers themselves.
Curation Zone aims to rebalance this, helping the individual worker get paid fair rates, and manage some of the uncertainty of dealing with larger corporates with their own inflexible, freelancer-unfriendly payment policies.
Streamline Talent Discovery For Agencies
From the brand and agency perspective, Curation Zone is providing a one-stop discovery shop to find the best possible talent from across many of the industry-leading platforms, including Behance, Vimeo, Le Book (The full list is in the article here).
To achieve this, Curation Zone uses artificial intelligence algorithms to normalise the worker “credential” data such as role credits, projects (uncredited), awards, engagement and commendations from each platform. This makes it easier for the agencies to compare apples to apples, and find the best talent for the job, no matter which platform the talent prefers to use.
Frictionless Intelligent Index
Curation Zone isn’t replicating or disintermediating the existing platforms, rather it acts as a “platform of platforms”, using AI to create an up to date index of creative talent across many platforms — a little like the Google of creative talent discovery.
To understand more, I invited Russell to speak with me about what they are trying to achieve with Curation Zone, how they are using technology and what benefit it will deliver to the creative industries.
When it comes to discovering fresh, quality talent, what challenges does the industry face now that it didn’t a couple of years ago?
There is definitely a greater need to be flexible at today’s agencies. Historically, agencies relied more on big retainer jobs and therefore built up top heavy in-house creative teams, but now the work is often project based and broader in scope than TV and print, so the need for flexibly is far greater. One of the top 5 Ad Agencies recently told me they have over 200 freelance vacancies to fill out of the USA alone. COVID has really put a lot of pressure on the organisations with over-weight in-house teams, but finding qualified, reliable, flexible freelancers is hard work and not always effective — that’s the challenge we are solving.
Why is it so hard to find the talent? There seem to be so many different platforms. We’ve already touched on the ones you work with above, but there’s the likes of Upwork, Unsplash and so many others.
The ones you mentioned tend to be more consumer, pro-sumer or small/medium business focused — although we have undertaken in-depth analysis of Unsplash and will likely add that platform later — mostly these sectors are not our core priority. The agency supporting Nike wants to make sure they get the best and most promising up and coming photographers, not the cheapest or the most active on a platform, but with no experience.
These platforms are flooded with creative talent who have verifiable work credentials but more often, those who don’t. Unfortunately the same problem is true with the more professionally focused platforms we work with. Pretty much anyone can register on most of them and say they’ve worked with the top brands, but there’s very little in terms of a systematic way of checking this, until we came along — it’s a big part of what we do.
Why is this important to creative workers?
The creative world has moved on, it’s not all about producing TV and print ads anymore. The content produced is much more diverse, and usually has to be produced quickly. That often means the shift away from total reliance on in-house teams to more flexible on-demand, more diversely skilled creatives, is critical. This now means the big brands and agencies are looking for talents and skills they might have either previously not have needed, or would have had to hire in-house for. This new demand now means there’s more top quality work opportunity for a broader, more diverse creative skill set.
The shift from in-house to freelancer has been difficult because of the complexities mentioned before. The only way this is going to reach its potential is if agencies and brands can more easily sift out the top talent, with verifiable work from those who are being a little more, shall we say, ’speculative’ with their credentials. In my experience, the 80:20 rule applies — of the millions of freelancers on the top-tier platforms we look at, only around 20% of them actually have the skills and background that agencies and brands require — we focus on finding and showcasing these, per role, through a single search.
How is technology helping creative talent find better, fairer work?
Making an impact, doing something memorable and thought-provoking means doing something that’s often not been done before. That means the media world is continuously evolving and diversifying. Technology is unlocking new behaviours, which drives new formats and new ways of making those.
During COVID we’ve seen a surge of use in technologies that enable things to be done remotely, from script reading and auditions to 3D model creation using drones and gaming technology, to out of studio motion capture.
Currently, though, the industry is finding technologies from other sectors and repurposing them. This isn’t perfect and adds both cost and risk. However, these will develop further, refine and become better suited. In doing so, new jobs, new skills will be created.
From our point of view, we use AI to enable brands and agencies to feel confident relying on our suggested freelancers for these newer roles and skills, as well as their more traditional creative needs. Although we algorithmically analyse the world’s top freelance talent sources, it’s the agency and brand staff that make the final selection from our ranked searchable index suggestions.
There’s a lot of reasonable concern about bias in AI. Are you worried that leaving AI to find the right talent might introduce bias?
That’s a great, if not loaded, question. In a way you could look at Curation Zone as a deliberate introduction of bias — we’re actively biasing those who have the background and skills that match their claims, but that’s only part truth. This kind of bias is not new, it’s done all the time with search filters and sorting, it’s just how we do it, and how we balance the data sets we use that are unique. We spent a lot of time working through the bias issue — how can we ensure that someone new does not get penalised for having fewer credits, projects or awards, for example? The solutions are all built into the algorithms.
Anyway, that’s not what you asked. Are we worried about how AI will create unknown bias? Yes, that worries us in general, but we have built the platform to mitigate this. Our platform isn’t a black-box, it’s essentially a feedback-loop system, with humans firmly in the middle, and in control of that feedback.
Our algorithms help to vastly cut down the number of profiles that get presented to the person searching and make it easier to compare. The AI there is focused on pattern matching across platforms and profiles. From this curated list humans feedback into our system by the choices and interactions they make. That feedback helps us keep our algorithms in tune with what our customers are actually searching for.
Find out more about Curation Zone here.