The “gig economy” is one of Silicon Valley’s most controversial innovations. Companies like the car service Uber have pioneered a business model where a core staff of full-time employees directs an army of people classified as independent contractors who do the actual work. Proponents say this system provides flexibility for both employers and workers, while critics say it makes life difficult for people trying to make a living with part-time work.
The picture is a bit different when it comes to small companies that rely on skilled professionals. Gail Rose, founder of Ananta Creative Group, has had success starting an ad agency from scratch and building it to the point where it can take on almost any advertising or marketing job, using an approach that is superficially similar to Uber’s but with more opportunity for the freelance staff. The company has recently grown to the point where it has just moved from home offices into a location of its own on Stockton Street in Princeton.
The founding team of Ananta consists of creative talent Rose and Amanda Martin, and photographer Matt Pilsner. Overall, the “core” full-time staff is made up of eight people. Graphic design, website development, and other jobs as needed are done by a team of freelancers who sign on for individual tasks.
Rose says that as the company grows the core staff may grow as well, but for now the freelance system is keeping everyone happy. “It’s working so well, and it really affords people a quality of life that they really appreciate,” she says.
Rose grew up in Buffalo, New York, where her father was a financial advisor and her mother was a housewife. She studied journalism at Boston University and interned as a reporter for several publications, but moved over to healthcare marketing after graduation, while keeping her focus on writing.
“I really loved the healthcare aspect of things,” Rose says. “I answered a blind ad in the New York Times for an assistant editor, and it turned out it was for a publishing company that was publishing journals of ophthalmology and optometry. My husband happens to be an eye doctor. They thought it was perfect, so they hired me.”
Rose, who was always more attracted to the human-interest angle of interviewing patients than to the technical details of eye medicine, continued her career in marketing and copywriting for the next two decades.
Ananta — a Sanskrit word that Rose says means “endless” or “infinite” — began as a hobby. In 2013 Rose had been getting certified as a yoga instructor, and was working out at a Crossfit gym, and was doing some marketing work and building a website for a friend who had started his own gym. “He didn’t know the difference between a writer and a website developer, so I said, ‘Of course I can do that.’”
Rose had the writing part handled, but had to find someone with technical skills to build the website. As it happened, Pilsner happened to be in one of Rose’s classes at the gym, and she had seen his photography and was impressed by it, and wanted to bring him on board to provide good visuals.
Together they formed Ananta. Rose found an expert in search engine optimization, and a graphic designer. “We just started working on projects together just for fun,” she says. “We enjoyed it so much, we didn’t want to stop working together. We started getting referrals for other work, and we just kept growing.”
Eventually it became clear that Ananta was a business, not a hobby, and the company was organized as an LLC in 2015. Since then it has dropped the health and fitness focus, and now will take on just about any job.
Rose says Ananta is very goal driven and likes to use digital tools to track results. She recalls that one client, a builder, Richard Dickson, came to her and asked her to make newsletters and brochures to promote his business. He had been using that approach for the past 45 years, but wasn’t seeing good results anymore. Rose persuaded him that precisely targeting customers, using data, was the way to go.
“Digital marketing is changing constantly,” she says. “It’s really giving us more tools.”
Ananta completely rebranded the company and started an electronic newsletter. Pilsner took a photos that showed off the quality of Dickson’s work. They used search engine optimization and online ads to target people in specific neighborhoods that they thought would be potential customers.
Dickson had demanded results, Rose said, and got them. “He was going to retire now, but instead of retiring, his business is booming. The work that we were doing for him was very satisfying.”
After broadening its focus from the health industry, Ananta decided to keep its yoga-inspired name anyway.
“We like to think our possibilities are endless in terms of what we can do creatively and strategically for our clients,” Rose says.
Ananta Creative Group LLC, 12 Stockton Street, Princeton 08542. 267-314-7355. Gail Rose, founder.anantacreativegroup.com