“Never describe yourself by what you are not.” -Me
Well… whoever said that was an idiot. For this particular post, I’m giving myself permission to completely ignore my own rule. Why? Because the fact of the matter is this: while I started an agency, I actually quite dislike the agency model. Here’s just a handful of reasons why.
1. They are a new business machine. Which puts existing clients in “do just enough” mode.
When an agency reaches a certain size, new business becomes the #1 necessary factor in growth. Therefore, you’ll find the top talent driving new business pitches. Once won due to agency brilliance, you are left with the B team, the C team, the summer intern team, or even the temporary outsourced team. And the machine keeps pushing forward.
Stay small. Stay focused. Create a foundational team. Please the crap out of clients. The rest will come. And it has.
2. They hire and layoff strategically with no regard for sustainable growth.
The Average Agency exists only for its own survival. It will grab and shed people out of need and convenience without regard to any of it. Financially, this makes complete sense as it works to maximize profit. People become expenses as opposed to investments. I receive dozens of resumes a week, and I see the “a different agency every year” experience too many times.
Invest in people. Show them you’re lucky to have them. Not that they’re lucky to have you.
3. They think in terms of impactful campaigns, not in terms of cultural impact.
By virtue of how competitive an agency is, and how young they skew, the “normal” agency tends to create work that is made to have impact on the creative community instead of the community of actual customers. Why do they do this? Simple. See #2. The most important thing to them is building a portfolio.
Create an “end-game” brand built for 5-10 years in the future and then work backwards. Focus on culture and authenticity over the disposable. Challenge clients. Build infrastructure. Measure. And then keep improving.
4. Sustainability of an idea is not in their best interest.
Typical Agencies have every incentive to reinvent a brand often. Why? More billable hours, more ongoing work. More reinvention means that they get to show their magic.
Let’s dare to create something great and sustainable. And then actually sustain it. That’s what great brands do. Average brands reinvent. Average brands use typical agency thinking.
5. They are slaves to the billable hour.
Dirty secret: Average Agency doesn’t know how to financially survive. They were born in the era where media commissions were the source of revenue. Now, in the era of billable hours and consultative thinking, they’ve been forced to think differently and bill differently. They add services and layer on unnecessary FTEs in order to keep up.
We’ve never been media-commission driven. It’s not our model. Therefore, we’ve always worked in the rational way clients expect agencies to work. Pay us for our thinking. Not for our ability to spend your money.
6. They still outsource the tough stuff.
Marketing research. Web development. Public relations. Despite being huge, Typical Agency still outsources these elements far too often. This leads to inconsistencies, lack of cohesion, and extra costs (they mark this stuff up).
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing in house. No outsourcing here. Ever.
7. They don’t really have diversified experience.
Behemoth Agency will tout their diversified experience. However, this is largely smoke and mirrors. Yes, the agency as a whole has diverse experience. But the individuals within it will more than likely work on one client, one industry, perhaps even one component therein.
Have everyone work on everything. Create an agency that is curious, challenge-driven, and can bring new thinking to every situation.
8. The departments are there – they just aren’t connected.
Gigantic Agency has a ton of talent. They can wow you with their departments. Unfortunately, it is up to your point of contact to personally connect the dots. There is no true collaboration between departments. There is only facilitated handoffs.
Create an agency in an open environment. With ample short meetings where teams are all together. Make sure everyone knows more than their task, make sure they know the purpose, the goal, and the challenges.