You Don’t Need An Agency…

Here’s a theory I’ve been kicking around for a while: you don’t really need an advertising agency.

Now a lot of people will argue this point – most of them will be people who work in agencies and a few of them will be probably friends and colleagues of mine –  but indulge me for a moment before you light your torches and rampage through the village, shaking your pitchforks and shovels…

You see, when it comes to  ad-agencies you’re not just paying for the creative work.

You’re paying for the running costs of that big shiny building, those delighful sushi lunches, that lovely leather couch in the Art Director’s office, the impressive boardroom with the trendy bottles of water, the huge neon sign outside, their award-submission fees and the Creative Director’s flashy new German luxury car.

Those are the trappings of the BDA ( that means “Big Dumb Agency” – a term I’ve borrowed from the inimitable George Parker) – and they’re necessary because of the legacy of the banking-fiction: you’re handing over a truckload of money to these people so you need to know A) that they’re successful and B) that they’re not going disappear any time soon. That’s why banks have such huge buildings on main streets; to convince you that they’re there to stay. And as we’ve learned this decade, those big buildings don’t mean squat.

So why not cut out the distributor and go straight to the source? Why not find yourself a copywriter and an art-director (they usually come as a set) who will dedicate their time to your brand? There are plenty of good ones around who are more concerned about doing what’s best for you as opposed to how milk a statuette out of doing work for you.

The thing about independent creatives is that they need you. Actually, they REALLY need your money. Sure, an agency needs your money too, but independents don’t draw salaries. It’s pay-for-play. And good independents have strong networks so should you ever need a strategist, a PR officer, website-coder or whatever, chances are your creative team be able to recommend one… all on a pay-as-you-go basis, of course.

Best of all, you’ll know who’s responsible for your creative work.  There are agencies out there who will send their senior people to meet you and then foist your work onto some poor junior writer/designer who has no clue about you or your brand –  and has to decipher the scope of work from some broken-telephone brief; that whole tenuous client-suit-PA-traffic-creative chain of communication…

Yes, there are chancers. Funnily enough, there are chancers in big ad-agencies too…no, really. But if you get it right, you’ll have your own personal agency, a team of people you can trust to deliver the work you want, when you want it – and chances are you’ll get what you’re paying for: excellent creative work. And when you get bored with them or you want to change it up, you can trade them in – usually with a shorter notice period than your agency.

So there you have it. A theory.

Ok…does everyone have their pitchforks? Splendid. You may begin the vilification…


4 thoughts on “You Don’t Need An Agency…

  1. Fair enough… you don’t need to pay for those big shiny buildings, the lunch-time sushi buffets or the trendy water bottles that end up modelling the scandinavian baordroom table. My question is … when shit hits the fan, and my dear it will; when the wrong message gets communicated to the volatile paying masses, who’s going to take resposibility for those gregarious f-up when you’ve trashed the collective expertise of greedy agency people.

    In the agencies I worked for, when client weren’t sure about the success of a campaign or job often the agency would front a portion of the bill for that campaign (knowing fully well that they were coverting for the big awards) and thus gaurantee the commitment of the success of that campaign. I don’t mean to say that all agencies do that, since smaller agencies can’t, but those who can will put their money in there mouth to ensure results.

    Agencies, like banks act big so that they can do big things and thus companies who can afford to fit the bill. Companies who have gone the internal agency route usually end up with a department that grows to a point where it eventuall splits to become its own agency. If you can afford to have an agency carry your load then I don’t see why you should be cheap about it and end up with unneccesary backlogs and no one to take responsibility for the failures.

    Just my two cents. Don’t mock the agency – expertise doesn’t grow on trees.

    • Agencies are the victims of their own success. They get so big, they can’t really look after all their clients “personally”. Hell, I know of one agency that farms out its radio-copy to the radio stations – and picks up a fat cheque for themselves.

      And that brings me to accountability and the biggest advantage to the client when it comes to the independent creative. You know exactly who is *personally responsible* for failure or non-delivery.

      And you can fire them.

      Agencies are notorious for spinning negative results. I’m not saying freelancers don’t; just that agencies do it more often. Look at CP+B and the Microsoft fiasco. $300 million dollars of last year and nothing but negative press. A clear case of the wrong message being communicated to the audience, and that message suggested by the agency. When the client talks directly to the creative, there can be no confusion as to what the message is.

      As for expertise: just because you work at an agency doesn’t mean you’re in any way, shape or form an expert or even competent to do your job. I’ve worked with copywriters who shouldn’t be allowed to sign their name, let alone work on a brief.

      Bottom line: there are good and bad agencies as well as good and bad independent creatives. The trick is to find the one that sincerely wants to help you find the creative solution to your brand’s business problem – and not just milk you for a shiny new statue.

      Thanks for adding you voice to the discussion. 🙂

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