When Morrissey sang “some girls are bigger than others” was he singing about their size or their generosity?
Talking of size, there’s been a lot of talk about the death of the network agency recently. Amusing though Sir Martin Sorrell’s denouncement of his own agencies’ leadership at AdTech was (for the record – he reminded us that too many of his agency top management knew too little about digital) it can only be part of the picture. Digital isn’t the only thing many of them don’t get. Now I’ve always talked about the creative product, and how to encourage a better version of getting it. This is a common principle that unites many across the industry. Sadly there aren’t many large agencies that think it that important in practice, and would rather run and hide than get an honest debate about agency added value out on the table.
I’ve been lucky enough to have created a very successful digital agency, run a very large network agency, and now operate as a consultant to both clients and agencies in how to improve the way in which they go to market and how to get the best out of each other. I’ve also spent time over the last year reviewing a wide range of creative product for an award or two. Oh and have an experimental creative business model on the go as well. My evidence is broad and deep. And we shall see in the published results of quite a few agencies in the coming months just how poor performance has got.
It’s all too easy to lay into the paranoid nature of agency leadership and the too often disconnected nature of network agencies in particular as they are forced to sign up to targets they can’t reach and client commitments they can’t meet. Many of them are good people caught in a trap. Right now, clients are holding back budgets left right and centre and finding it harder to take risks. The business model encourages internecine warfare, which is, apart from anything else, a shame and waste of energy for sometimes very clever and talented people, and clients’ money. There are of course notable exceptions to this, and I tip my hat to all of them.
I don’t think the agency is dead, by the way. But I do think it has become stale, and forgotten that, as Alan Moore puts it, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Wouldn’t it be rather more fun if we all spent more time thinking about that? How to inspire others. How to create. How to imagine. How to invent. How to argue for quality, and how to improve. And did it. That’s what I’d like for Christmas. I’d like to be reminded that there others in the industry that want it to get better, by being a better, cleverer, more agile industry.
And by thinking of ideas, not excuses.