Unicorns, Bluebirds, and Silver Dragons

Apr 28, 2022
Kate Walton

Hello from Steyer and welcome back to the transparency train!

Last time I shared how we slice the pie. Today I’ll explain what the heck we’re talking about when we speak of unicorns, bluebirds, and silver dragons. We are a whimsical lot—but underlying our flights of fancy is some hard, cold business logic.

Here’s the deal:

At any given time, we have scores of creative professionals (writers, editors, designers, video producers, etc.) working on our client engagements. These professionals have all sorts of content-related titles—e.g. UX Writer—but from a business perspective they fall into three categories:

1) Unicorns. This category accounts for most of our creative talent! These are content professionals with a very specific set of skills whom our recruiters have identified and matched to an engagement after Steyer’s sales team found the business opportunity with the client. Pay implications: We pay our beloved “unicorns” competitive rates—or we wouldn’t be able to land them.

2) Bluebirds. Steyer has a decades-long reputation as a talent-centric shop; we do everything in our power to give creatives the employment terms, the support, and the camaraderie they want. So, creative professionals quite frequently bring business opportunities that they’ve found to us. For example, a hiring manager at Microsoft might reach out to a writer named Lucy and say, “We’d like to have you as a contractor—who’s your agency?” And Lucy will say “Steyer.” Pay implications: When creative professionals bring contracts to us, we call these talents “bluebirds,” and we pay them a premium rate—something we can afford to do because we haven’t had to expend as much on business development and recruiting in order to land the engagement.

(Fun fact: Why can’t Lucy contract directly with Microsoft? Because Microsoft, like most big companies, has strict procurement policies which require that hiring managers use vetted agencies that have cleared certain security hurdles and act as the employer of record, providing contractors like Lucy with healthcare and other benefits.)

3) Silver Dragons. Some content professionals we encounter are not freelancers so much as they are business owners in their own right. They have multiple clients and often multiple employees. They could likely carry on independently for years—and thrive! But either because they don’t enjoy the administrative aspects of their work (e.g. payroll, invoicing, IT security, etc.) or because they want to start working with enterprise-level clients, they choose to fold their business into ours. The upside for the entrepreneur? They get to focus exclusively on their first love: creating great content. The upside for Steyer: we get to integrate new business (and sometimes even new practice areas!) at a faster rate than we otherwise could. Full disclosure: to date adopting silver dragons has been rare—but as the costs and complexity of doing business with big companies continues to spike, we find ourselves having more and more silver dragon-type conversations with independent operators. Pay implications: When a silver dragon chooses to make Steyer their professional home—bringing their clients to us—we slice the pie in a way that maintains (and eventually increases) their personal earnings while reducing their administrative burdens. As with bluebirds, we can afford to do this because we haven’t had to expend as much on business development and recruiting to land the work with Steyer.

Next time, we’ll talk about contracting vs. managed work—why we take on both kinds of engagements, how they’re similar, and how they’re different.

If you have any questions in the meantime, please email me at . I always love to hear from readers.


Image credit: original drawings by Cat Mai of Steyer Content