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Moonlighting is here to stay: How is the advertising industry tackling it?

Moonlighting has always been there. It increased during the pandemic and has become an oft-discussed topic since Wipro sacked 300 employees for taking gigs from its competitors while working full-time for the company. caught up with the experts to talk about how moonlighting will impact the advertising and marketing industry

Moonlighting has always been there, it increased during the pandemic and now is here to stay. Companies like Swiggy, Cred and Tech Mahindra have even allowed their employees to work on other projects after working hours.  

It has become the word of the hour after ‘quiet quitting’, since Wipro sacked 300 employees for taking up gigs from its competitors while working full-time with the company. 

Wipro’s Executive Chairman Rishad Premji referred to moonlighting as "plain and simple cheating.”

While it is quite pervasive due to the work-from-home culture induced by the pandemic, caught up with the experts to talk about how moonlighting will impact the advertising and marketing industry. 

Lloyd Mathias

As per Lloyd Mathias, a Business Strategist and Angel Investor, this is the reality of today’s time since a lot of young people want to make money on the side. 

“Sometimes they are doing side gigs which are not directly related to the current companies’ competitors, which most of the companies do not approve of, but it is totally fine. It should be accepted, as long as the employee is not working with the competitor there is no integrity issue,” he said. 

Shripad Kulkarni

“Moonlighting will continue overall because it is a function of need or greed for additional income, which will always be there,” added Shripad Kulkarni, Marcom Advisor.

Rajesh Ramaswamy

While the most common reason one attributes for the increase in the number of people moonlighting is forming an extra source of income, according to Rajesh Ramaswamy, the Founder of The Script Room and Filmmaker at Coconut Films, moonlighting doesn't necessarily only translate to money, it's also about testing waters and trying to explore other avenues. 

He said, “Moonlighting is happening ever since the beginning of time, it’s not something new, and the reasons for this are much beyond money. In the advertising profession, people join for a reason, this industry is a place of finding avenues to express but sometimes there is a feeling of not being able to express themselves and this makes people get a little bored so they do take on deals where they get some kind of satisfaction and relief, rather than putting all the pressure on one single job. If they don’t find satisfaction, they will go to see other avenues.”

However, the biggest problem, according to Ramaswamy, is that there's a huge mismatch in explaining the job to people by over-promising them on what they can expect from their job. He explained, “People join the companies thinking that they may find major avenues for productivity and when that doesn't happen then they naturally want to open up to other avenues. Therefore, they go moonlighting. Hence, it’s not about the money only.”

Moonlighting has always existed in the advertising and marketing industry. It has been the norm in the advertising industry, particularly with creative folks and film teams. However, the majority of creative people made an effort to keep their extracurricular activities under wraps, especially those who worked full-time at agencies. Many a time the employers are aware of it but they point it out only if it impacts the regular full-time job and breaches the contract with the clients.  

But the incidents of moonlighting have accelerated in the last two years of the pandemic, according to Mathias. He said that in the advertising space some degree of moonlighting was happening even before, especially by the creatives and the copywriters, but the volume has accelerated more in recent times.

Kulkarni seconded that there has been a fair amount of moonlighting in the advertising business and in many cases, it is kind of known to all parties concerned. As long as employer work doesn’t suffer and there isn’t any client confidentiality issue, it's ‘chalta hai’! 

Although he commented, “Stray cases of bigtime moonlighting are reported once in a while and then some action is taken, but it’s mostly a hush-hush operation.”

He even pointed out that no one knows if it has reduced during the pandemic due to the WFH culture. “The reason is that people don’t get the time. WFH has triggered a new way of working where work hours are either more or intertwined with home and personal work,” he added.

Not only this there is a new dimension to moonlighting post-pandemic. As per Kulkarni, employees who were thinking of owning a start-up venture, have used this opportunity to spend official time building it up from the ground.

Nirmalya Sen

Nirmalya Sen, Founder and CEO at The Rethink Company, believes that moonlighting is more prevalent in bigger companies with multi-tiered teams, and having a lean company structure for the Rethink Company has helped them combat moonlighting. 

He commented, “When we launched The Rethink Company, having closely observed the issues established agencies face with large multi-tiered teams and their accompanying large fixed costs, we were clear we had to structure ourselves differently. There is also the fact that different projects even for the same client require vastly different skill sets. The reason why we operate with a small core team of full-time employees supported quite regularly by the freelance talent that brings varied skills to the table. It helps us be lean, nimble and versatile.”

Besides, the Covid-19 pandemic has moved the offices to the living rooms which has not only forced the employees of the IT industry but also of the advertising industry to take up parallel gigs to supplement their incomes.

Many advertising agencies actively encourage the pursuit of passion projects, and moonlighting is common in the industry. But people don't always look for work elsewhere out of pure passion. The temptation to moonlight results from the low pay at advertising agencies, according to some experts.

This is something which Ramaswamy also believes in. According to him, during the interview, the over promises that the agencies make is a problem. There is a communication gap between the employee and the employer. The employers glorify the work-life and fail to implement it later, basically letting down the employees.

“Agencies also need to think differently now. Gone are those days when we were expecting you to be loyal to a job and stick to one particular job. If a person is moonlighting and using different ways to upgrade their skills that should not be a problem,” he said. 

However, Meenakshi Menon, founder of Spatial Access and a veteran advertiser, has a different viewpoint. She believes that this is an unethical process and it needs to be stopped.

Sharing one such incident that she had closely witnessed related to moonlighting on her LinkedIn, she wrote, “I remember a couple of creative people at Lintas under Alyque being given the option of exiting employment and becoming consultants. The rules were very clear. If you were on staff (full-time duty) you could not work at another agency. You could do everything else in your spare time or in exceptional cases even while on the job. Which is why there were so many actors and musicians and artists working with the agency in its heyday.”

“Decades later I was running a pitch for a PSU client whose brief had mandated a strong Indian language focus. One Hindi writer was presenting ideas for two competing agencies. Both agencies had presented him as a freelance specialist but an integral part of their creative team. The client was shocked. Neither agency got the assignment. Media agencies too have moonlighters who will “consult” for clients regardless of the competitive context. Data subscriptions from one agency are used to plan for “personal” clients. It’s disgusting and needs to be stopped.”

According to Mathias, moonlighting is not illegal until the person is not working for the competitor.

He said senior creative executives need to discuss issues related to side hustles. The companies should be open to having dialogues with the employees and should be okay if they are seeking an opportunity.

“Hence the new brands are recognising the importance of this like Swiggy has a lot of part-time employees and delivery agents who can do whatever they want to do after their working hours, until and unless they are breaching any company confidentiality,” he said. 

While moonlighting is here to stay in the A&M industry, the only way to make this symbiotically exist with regular paying jobs is by being true to the employers, not working on competing brands of your agencies and following the non-disclosure agreement. 

Sen’s Rethink doesn’t work with freelance strategic planning talent, unless unavoidable. They as a company work with full-time independent freelancers who are not employed by another agency. “This is particularly useful as it allows us to work with senior talent including former NCDs/ ECDs who we would otherwise not be able to afford at this stage.”

And if the above is not possible, they hire freelance talent employed by other agencies, working only with talent who do not work for brands that compete with the brand in question, added Sen.

Mathias concluded that companies are trying to have more modern work practices ensuring flexibility both in terms of working from the office or working from home. Also, the companies should give a better opportunities to employees.

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