Why You Should Work with Creative Staffing Agencies or Not

Throughout the life of this blog, I’ve sung the praises of working with creative staffing agencies (CSAs) as an awesome way for freelancers to get work. I’ve met hundreds of business people, freelance and full-time, who’ve worked with CSAs and shared their experiences with me. Some say good things, some bad, and some have a meh response.

Based on conversations I’ve had and my experience working with CSAs, I want to give you some information about why you should work with creative staffing agencies or not. Information below includes the process, some pros and cons of working with CSAs, and a list of the agencies available in Portland (many of which operate in multiple cities nationally and internationally).

Mathys and Potestio

How the Process Works

  1. Connect with the CSA through their online form. You’ll likely need to provide a resume, link to portfolio, and general background info on yourself.

  2. Auto-generated email tells you your application was received and someone will get back to you soon.

  3. A recruiter gets back to you soon to setup an interview.

  4. In the interview, the recruiter goes over your resume with you, gets to know you personally, asks what kind of position you’re looking for (e.g. freelance/contract/full-time copywriter) and with whom (medium-sized corporation in their marketing department).

  5. You leave the interview with a new team member and advocate, if not a friend. (I’m actually friends with a few of my CSA recruiters. Speaking of which, Blaire owes me a beer…)

  6. When a relevant position comes up, the recruiter who interviewed you (or another recruiter from their office) will email or call you to discuss your interest and availability. You say yay or nay, and they submit you for the position or not.

  7. If you’re submitted, they’ll be in touch about whether or not you get an interview. If you’re not submitted, they’ll contact you again with future opportunities.

  8. The recruiter sets up the interview. You go. You dazzle.


  9. Filter Digital Staffing

  10. The recruiter calls to tell you the result: you got the gig/full-time position or not.

  11. You begin work on the agreed-upon date.

  12. If you landed a freelance or contract position, then the process repeats from #6. If it’s a full-time position, the recruiter’s work for you is done…until you want to leave that position and need their help finding you another one!

Mathys+Potestio created this great video explaining how the process works and what they do as creative recruiters.

Pros of Working with Creative Staffing Agencies

Now for the benefits of working with CSAs:

  1. They’re on your business team. When you work with CSAs, what you’re inviting them to do is leverage their client network to find you the kind of work you want. In addition to your own efforts to find work, CSAs are working toward that same thing on your behalf.

  2. It’s free to work with them. You don’t pay them anything to help you find work or to accept an assignment once it’s been found.

  3. They can place you in freelance, contract (long-term or short), AND full-time positions depending on what you want them to look out for.

  4. They give you health coverage. Depending on how many hours per week you work, you could be eligible for health coverage from the CSA who is essentially your employer when you work for companies through them.


  5. Creative Circle Staffing

  6. Your portfolio will become awesome. There are some heavyweight companies and agencies in the Portland area, and I’m just going to assume you don’t have access to them. These companies usually have a dozen ways to prevent you from getting a foot in the door. You can totally do it though. Using LinkedIn, networking events, and years of patience, you can likely crack into any client. Asking the CSAs to get you in is a much…much faster way to go though.

  7. They advocate for you to the client. When a company/agency wants to hire for a position, they often reach out to CSAs to help with their recruiting. When they do that, the CSAs check their rolodex of talent and recommend people based on their relevant experience. The CSA goes to bat for you to get the position. They don’t just submit your resume and call it good, they have a conversation about you with the hiring personnel. (At least that’s the ideal.)


Cons of Working with Creative Staffing Agencies

Not to be outdone, here are some potential drawbacks of working with CSAs:

  1. The pay is low. CSAs are middle(wo)men. They connect job seeker with job giver and are paid for that work. That payment comes out of your hourly rate. Here’s a sample equation: Company pays CSA $97/hour for You, CSA pays You $50/hour. If you’re placed in a full-time position: Company pays a percentage (10-15% I’ve heard) of your salary to CSA as a “finder’s fee,” Company pays You your full salary with no deduction for the finder’s fee.

  2. The work offered is lame. Sometimes the work recruiters present to you is lame and not at all what you want to do. When that happens, say no. And while you’re at it, tell the recruiter you’re not interested in hearing about positions like that.

  3. Recruiters get in the way. There was one time I got a gig at adidas through a CSA. The client said he wanted me to meet him onsite, but then the recruiter said I could meet via phone. I called him at the agreed-upon time and learned very quickly that he had expected me to be onsite. That gig went away fast. Yes, inexperienced recruiters can definitely get in the way of work.

  4. Recruiter communication is low-quality. Some people I’ve referred to my CSA recruiter connections have had really bad experiences. They’ve said things like: the recruiter never got back to them, shat all over their resume/relevant experience, treated them like a dime a dozen (i.e. not important or worthy of individual attention). I’ve experienced this as well, especially when I was starting out and I didn’t have a lot of experience. I’ve found that the smaller the CSA, the higher quality of experience you can expect.
  5. 52 Limited


Creative Staffing Agencies in Portland

And now for that list of creative staffing agencies in Portland. I’ve worked with a lot of them, and I’ve had good, bad, and meh experiences. I won’t rate them that way, but I will say, in general, my best experiences have been with the smaller CSAs. The time they’ve taken to get to know me, the quality of the recruiters, and the quality of the work (freelance, full-time, and biz dev!) they’ve referred has made me an advocate for CSAs. For me, because of the quality of my experiences with these smaller CSAs, the pros outweigh the cons. Here’s the list:

  • Mathys+Potestio
  • Filter Digital
  • Creative Circle
  • 24Seven
  • 52 Limited
  • Vitamin T
  • Aquent
  • Pact (Never worked with them.)
  • Boly:Welch (Never worked with them.)


  • So, IMHO, that’s why you should work with creative staffing agencies or not. What’d I miss? Why do you or don’t you work with CSAs? Anything you’d like to add? What have your CSA experiences been like?

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