‘FU’ awards urge Canada’s ad industry to thank freelancers

Co-Op launches Freelancers Unite program recognizing independent talent

Shane Schick September 12, 2016

Ad execs and their client counterparts will often cite the strength of their team as one of their biggest assets, but Toronto-based creative agency Co-Op is launching a new awards program to recognize the fact that many of those involved in the work are increasingly freelancers versus full-time employees.

The first annual Freelancers Unite Awards open for nominations Monday and can include written or video submissions by creatives anywhere in Canada. Following the entry deadline on Oct. 10, a panel of judges will select 10 winners to be celebrated at a ceremony in November. Beyond the awards, FreelancersUnite.ca is selling merchandize such as hats, T-shirts and bags that pay tribute to those who have chosen something other than a traditional nine-to-five job.

If the abbreviated “FU” of the awards program sounds a little like a curse, that’s the point, according to Co-Op founder Adam Roach. Even if they do great work, he said freelance copyrighters, designers and other talented independents are often under-appreciated by the ad industry as a whole.

“You see this quite a bit, where they’re seen as more or less there to fill a gap,” he said. “We felt it was time to provide more recognition of what they actually do.”

A video from Co-Op to promote the FU Awards makes the point even more strongly:

Roach cited Statistics Canada research, which showed a 25% earnings uptake among freelancers over the past 10 years. He also said Co-Op in particular has benefited from the so-called “gig economy,” by keeping its resources well-allocated but giving his team the capability to scale as required for larger projects.

“For us, it’s allowed a small shop to offer full service,” he said, adding that the talent pool isn’t limited to people creating visuals or ad copy. “Through the independents that we find, it goes across strategist, planners, developers and a lot more.”

Judges for the FU Awards include Co-Op creative director Pete Ross, AutoTrader director of marketing Ian MacDonald, Mackie Biernackie co-founder Steph Mackie and Minto Group VP Amanda Mitchell, among others.