Workfree Connect: With Craig Borthwick

We caught up with Craig Borthwick, partner at Lightblue, an experiential marketing agency based in Dubai (where he’s been for over a decade) to chat about the future of their work and the force behind it.

Whilst the UAE is the centre of his world, they work with clients across the globe – from PlayStation and Nike, to the Dubai Ministry of Culture and blockchain platform Algorand, all whilst building and growing multi-national teams to deliver the best in class experiences. Let’s dive in! 

What do Lightblue do?

We create experiences, it’s as simple as that. But those experiences need to be mind blowing and engage people in a way that is so emotionally compelling that we’re able to build incredible relationships between one consumer and two brands or indeed if it’s an entity with whatever objective they have.  

It’s culture based marketing and that lives in the physical world, eg a pop- up, an activation, an event, or in the digital world, or as we see post Covid, an online /offline hybrid, a mix reality experience or the Metaverse. 

Sometimes you look at brands and think they’re just doing some sexy work. We dig deeper. For us it has to be meaningful. What’s the functional benefit for the business? Beyond the it looks cool. How does it make you feel emotionally? That lies in the how you hear it. How you see it. How you might taste it. Our job is to bring things to life so that people feel like they get it and more importantly they want to engage with it. 

What’s your experience when it comes to the talent that fuels the work, how do freelancers fit in?

Any agency initially needs a nucleus of promise. Conceptually our work is born from our core team and freelancers are integral to the mix.  Traditionally freelance talent is thought of as a top-up to a team. We have to look beyond capacity and volume. It’s not a numbers game for us, it’s all about quality. Filling up with a bit of creative here, some support there is an outdated strategy.

Ok, so how does freelance talent fit into your growth strategy for 2024 and beyond?

Strong talent is what we look for. It adds an additional layer of skillset. It allows us to do more and do it better. It allows us to offer more holistic experiences.  We want to have the availability to give clients exactly what they need in different ways, through different methods.  We want to have fresh perspectives. Every single thing we do is bespoke. In our line of work if it’s been done before no-one wants it. It’s all about experiences. We want talented people from all over the world because the way that we engage -  whilst we have a similar goal – encourages different ways of doing things, ways of creating, and we love it.  

The challenge or problem is that you get someone very literal who just wants to hire for an output. There’s always going to be an output right. But the bit in the middle, the thinking, the way of doing things inspires creativity. 

We work on a creative basis and lean on the support from a freelance network all over the world. Someone working in the US can complement the team based in the UK or Asia. Working with talent in different time zones means we can always be on. This way clients get better work, to get it on time and move as quickly as every brand wants to move. 

At workfree we want to champion the companies that make their freelancers feel valued not only with their contribution to the work they do, but for who they are as people too. Transactional relationships are not the future of the work force.

Exactly. We don’t even call them freelancers, they become part of the team. They have names. They’re included in the client calls. They’re there to be a part of the discussion, to be at the table and to give your input. That’s what we encourage. People have so much to offer and we chase those with ambition. 

What is your biggest challenge hiring freelance talent?

Picking the right talent can be a tough job. It used to be even harder. You go to what you know like talent pools, LinkedIn, inbounding inquires -it’s really tough to manage availability and stay updated with what people have been working on.  You end up having multiple conversations on multiple formats and we don’t have enough time. The ability to house that in one place that allows you to intuitively filter, to plan, schedule that’s the dream - for agencies. 

Even when pitching, to be able to think pre-pitch I have the comfort, the security of great people to support me. Workfree allows us that, whilst managing the process. You can find what you’re looking for and probably more. The direct feedback from our team, is that they gain comfort from the ability that it’s just a click away. 

Have you guys used freelance talent in times when you’ve needed to scale your business, could you share a bit about that?

We are interested in scaling effectively. Firstly, you want to grow and you have to have caution because everything comes at a cost. The comfort of knowing that relevant, authentic good talent is available helps those in operations, in finance stay calm. Sometimes it’s super specific to web3 or production management and we don’t need those every day. But when we do, we need access to the most qualified person you can possibly find. 

The greatest barrier that I find is being too literal and to your point, transactional. I try to always look beyond the immediacy of the skill, there’s more of an exchange. By moving into the ambition and inspiration a person possesses helps us bring teams together and helps us grow in a different way. Tapping into their passion sparks the seeds for a stronger relationship and creates more business for everyone. 

We can help freelancers thrive in a new a skillset, whether that’s a new environment, a new way of doing something. The output is important but so is the journey. 

Thank you for your insights Craig - Our key take-away

How can we change the ways we are creative? It’s important that freelancers look for ways to adjust their approach, how do they develop their skillset for today’s market? 

I’d love for freelancers to stay in touch with agencies more, let us know what they’re up to, sometimes people shy away from those conversations which actually build relationships and lasting connections. 



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