Monthly Archives: August 2012

Blow Up Your Agency? 6 Telltale Signs Why

Make that change…

So, you’re looking at the man in the mirror. You are an agency CEO/President or Chairman/Owner. The man in the mirror is asking you if you need to make a change. He wants to know if you really believe in what you’re selling. He wants to know if you’re checking in or checking out.

The Boston Red Sox just blew up their entire franchise. Let that serve as a profile in courage. They unloaded their 3 best-paid and biggest stars on the unwitting LA Dodgers for 3 minor leaguers and a bag of peanuts. Why? They recognized it was time to pull the plug on what wasn’t winning. Sure, they could sell out Fenway Park and just wheelbarrow cash to the bank in the near-term. But, they recognized that the model was unsustainable. At some point, they would lose customers (clients) that felt deceived by a lack of propriety and fiduciary responsibility that is incumbent upon community institutions.

Ad agencies should take note. In the mad scramble to be everything to anybody (or to be whatever you aren’t) — you’ve lost your way, Mr. President. You’ve let the inmates run the asylum. They’re eating fried chicken and drinking beer and you enable the bad behavior. Change is almost always good — especially for mid-sized, independent creative agencies. The temptation is always to resist change, never to embrace it. Change is hard. It’s messy. It comes with risks. Change takes courage. Everyone has their 6,000 square- foot home mortgage to protect. But, it’s the guys that take a second mortgage out on their homes so they can change their agency business model and process who will succeed moving forward. Playing it conservatively and running a Calvinist company will endear you to the Board of Directors, but it will also make you an also-ran in the next year or two. Why? Because the rate of change in the world around us has accelerated to the point that you have to change drastically just to keep up with it.

Have you recently had the feeling that the agency is running you, instead of vice-versa? I hear that from my buddies and clients. If that’s the case, blow it up. Take back control of your agency. Don’t confuse adding disciplines like digital/mobile/social and or adding departments as change. You can put a tattoo on an accountant, but remember, he’s still an accountant.

Nobody asked me, but here are 6 Telltale Signs Why You Should Blow Up Your Agency:

  1. You Haven’t Paid Out Bonuses in Several Years Despite Profitability — Do you think your employees are stupid? Do you think they can’t figure out where the money is going? Blow up that model. Reward your best people or fire them.
  2. You Have Not Won a Major Creative Award in Several Years — One Show Pencil, Cannes Lion, Communication Arts. Creative Awards have taken a huge hit in the dark era of bean counters and ROI. Fortunately, we just passed through that tunnel. Creativity and awards are back and clients are again seeking the award-winning agencies. According to a study by Millward Brown, award-winning work is 2,000 times more likely to be effective than non award-winning work. Clients trust Millward Brown.
  3. The Majority of Your Employees Arrive after 9 AM and Depart by 5:30 — The surest sign that efficiency has sunken into your agency culture. Efficiency is bad for growth; it tricks you into thinking everything is just fine. Efficiency allows your employees to hold you hostage to outdated processes. It saps creativity.
  4. Your Biggest Accounts Have Been With You for More than 5 Years — Agencies brag about “long-standing client relationships” and they should. But, after a while, your culture simply reflects that of your longstanding clients. You become them. This isn’t bad. What’s bad is that you never added anyone significant on top of them.
  5. You Haven’t Been in A Big Pitch in Over a Year — It’s an active time out there. Why aren’t you in the mix? Maybe because people don’t know who you are and what you do best (ya think?).
  6. You Have No Succession Plan — Or at least one that you feel confident in. You have no management committee. You are essentially a benevolent dictator. Nobody else’s opinions really matter — despite the fact that you often solicit them. It’s more important that people like you than are motivated by you.  

Next: How to Blow Up Your Agency

Who Is the New Creative Person?

On the Comeback Trail With the New Kids on the Block

Creativity is making a comeback. After “tech-ing” up the past few years, agencies are beginning to remember what they actually get paid to do: create communications. The axis is shifting back to content from context. And that’s a good thing.

Last week, Google paid $23 million for Frommer’s, a relatively stuffy travel site. True, Google can pull $23 million out of the petty cash drawer, not a significant financial investment. But, it’s the gesture that is symbolic. They paid for content (however pedestrian). The world’s technology king, with all it’s crawlers and spiders, is buying creative content.

Through the growing pains of tech-ing up these past few years, agencies have lost their creative luster. The new breed: creativus millennial doesn’t regard advertising as the creative cauldron of tomorrow. They’re creating new forms of communication and it’s not about sales — it’s about engagement, it’s experiential. They would rather work in Silicon Valley than Madison Avenue. Shoot, are there even any agencies left on Madison Avenue?

I see signs of things coming back full circle, however. Fifteen years ago, you could go into a new business presentation and simply tell the client, “we’re gonna make your brand cool.” If you had the work to back that claim — both in your portfolio and for them in spec — you had a chance of winning the account. Then came the triple-whammy recessions (dotcom bust, 9/11, mortgage crisis: bang, bang, bang) and the bean counters took over. ROI and compliance ruled the road. If you told a client 5 years ago that you were “gonna make their brand cool”, they called security to escort you out of the building.

Well, I’m glad to report that it’s kinda cool to be cool again. Which, in itself, is kinda cool. Clients and therefore agencies are recognizing that the channels are cool, the technology is cool, the new toys/devices are cool. So, the content needs to be cool, too. But the rules of engagement have changed. We’re not selling anymore. We’re telling. We’re conversing.

So, who’s this new creative person today? Nobody asked me, but here are some thoughts:

  • Seeks of the Absolute Truth About Everything — This trait is often referred to by agencies as “curiosity.” Creativity requires a lot of curiosity, for sure. But curiosity should lead to a great deal more — it should lead to an insatiable hunger for the absolute truth. The great creative work and solutions require you to seek the absolute truth about everything.
  • Has an Acute Sensitivity to the Human Condition — You are engaging real people, not consumers. You’re conversing with the man on the street. If you blow off panhandlers and mock the poor, you’re not a creative person. Stop pretending you are. The triple-whammy recession fractured the national and global psyche. Just because you took your IPO money and bought a Dorkmobile (BMW) doesn’t mean you can be shallow or condescending in your communications.
  • Makes Language New — Here we go again with W.H. Auden quotes. Today’s creative person takes the familiar and creates a new vernacular. They translate the anachronistic into the acronistic (acronyms abound!). They are the Kerouacs that write the new Beat Poetry. They blog to change the world (
  • Holds a Mirror up to Mankind — They are the Modern Shakespeares and Eugene O’Neills. They chronicle everyday life and make it seem fascinating. They make the humdrum drum. They show us ourselves for the very first time. They reveal our flaws in a way that they allow us to forgive ourselves.
  • Shows You the World as You Dream It — Only dreamers can do this. Anyone can learn (understand stuff). Some folks can speak well (talk about stuff). But the rare creative person dreams — they dream up stuff. They turn reality into a dream.