This charming cuckoo clock is on the wall at my new employer, Duncan Channon.

5 Reasons I Just Pulled In My Freelance Shingle to Go Full Time

After years of dating around, I’m getting hitched again.

After three-and-a-half-years as a full-time freelancer, I just accepted a staff position as executive creative director at Duncan Channon in San Francisco.

I’m excited! And I’ve read enough “new hire” press releases to know all the things I’m supposed to say next.

“Truly a special opportunity.”

“An amazing collection of people.”

“Can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and build on the good work which was built on top of other good work so that we’re dealing with a Jenga-like structure of good work…”

Look for these and other self-serving platitudes in the press release!

Beyond all that, here are the five reasons I decided to pull in my freelance shingle and “go staff.”

Earlier this summer, I freelanced at DC to help with a few pitches. Without revealing the details, the results were (*cough*) positive.

So we started talking. What would it look like if I merged my “agency of one” with a two-time AdAge Small Agency of the Year?

I’ve written before about what I love about freelance and what I miss about being part of a full-time team. The short version: this opportunity tipped the scales.

1. Culture

After working at so many different places, I have a profound appreciation for the role that an organization’s culture plays in your work life.

And I’ve come to believe that it’s next to impossible to change a place’s fundamental culture. I’ve taken jobs where I was hired to be a “change agent,” but I’m not sure leopards ever really change their spots. Once a culture takes root, it’s rare that it loosens its grip.

Duncan Channon just feels…right. I like the people and the way they work. My values sync up with what they’re trying to do. They do good work and treat people well. (You know, little things like recognizing that people have families and enjoy seeing them from time to time.)

They’re small (60 peeps) but not too small. There aren’t a lot of extra layers so people stay close to the work. And they’re independent; no holding company and no sending the monthly “vig” to the New York godfathers.

(Plus, after working client-side at the in-house agencies, it’s pretty clear that agency-land are “my people.”)

2. The Work

I want to make some of this work! The stuff that we developed during the pitches is strong. Of course, there’s a big difference between work in a pitch deck and the final execution and I want to be involved in birthin’ these babies.

Plus, I’ve been impressed with the work that the Duncan Channon-deliers have been making for their other clients. It’s stuff that respects the audience and cares about craft. From account to strategy to creative to production, it’s a crew that I wanted to be in business with.

3. Leadership

As a freelancer, the buck definitely does NOT stop with you. In some ways, that’s great; you avoid a lot of headaches.

But if you really want to have a say in how work develops and whether or not it succeeds or fails in the world, you need to be in a leadership position.

Honestly, I’m curious to test my chops and see if I have what it takes to be the kind of day-in-and-day-out creative leader that creatives and clients want to work with and that consistently produces great work.

(Yes, I know…you’re going to forward me the link to this piece in six months when I’m drowning in meetings and bullshit, aren’t you? When you do, please leave off the winking emoji, will ya?)

4. Bigger Impact

Several times over the last few years, I’ve had freelance clients approach me about taking on bigger assignments — projects that were too big for little ol’ me.

I guess it’s natural to toy with the idea of starting up your own thing so you can tackle those bigger projects. But a number of my friends have started their own agencies and I know that it’s no picnic.

So this was a chance to join forces with an established agency, who already has great people and resources in place (including an in-house media department! Yay!) With a full-service team, I feel like I can take on bigger assignments and have a larger impact.

5. Benefits

It wasn’t my main motivation, but there’s no doubt that the current administration’s sabotage of the health insurance market has made freelance more challenging. There are fewer coverage options and the ones that remain are spiking in price.

I’ve written this before but I think that healthcare is a human right. The fact that the most desirable healthcare plans are tied to employers is an antiquated system; we should be looking to universal coverage options.

After several years of serving as my own benefits administrator, it was dreamy to be handed a packet on day one. (“Honey, go ahead and get that cavity filled!”)

Listen, no place is “perfect.” And Agency Spy is filled with breathless press releases about creative leaders who are nowhere to be found 18 months later. So we’ll take this one day at a time and see how it develops. But I am excited about this (wait for it…) NEXT CHAPTER.

I’m still bullish on freelance. So much about the business has changed in recent years and there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. Agencies and brands need flexibility and I suspect the demand for targeted help will only increase.

Using temporary help wisely can be a strategic advantage. I imagine that I’ll be pulling in many of my freelance brothers and sisters in my new role. (I’m also hiring a senior team, so copywriters and art directors, slide into my DMs.)

A special thank you to all the agencies and brands who worked with me over the last several years. I’m incredibly grateful. I’ve seen a ton and learned a ton and I hope to incorporate those lessons into my new role.

And now, time to update the ol’ LinkedIn bio.


After years as a freelance writer and creative director, John Kovacevich recently joined Duncan Channon in San Francisco as executive creative director.

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