Running an agency without a creative at the helm (and by that I mean owning or part-owning the bloody place) is a bit like opening a restaurant without knowing how to use the oven.
Yeah, you might be able to rustle up a sandwich or hire in a pizza putter-togetherer but you’re really going to struggle to serve up consistent high quality, mouth-watering work if you have a constant flow of jobbing chefs through the door and you don’t really know what they do, how they do it or whether it’s any good.
There’s obviously a counter argument that every agency also needs a quality business and numbers brain at the top and I’m not for one minute denying this, my point is all about balance… well more about who leads the culture that creates the product that solves the problems.
Take a look at the agency landscape, how many heads of those businesses were or are creative? Loads in London, the famous and most respected ones all have – think BBHegarty, AbbottMV, Saatchi&S, Wieden+Kennedy the list goes on, in fact you’d struggle to find one that doesn’t, even the big networked agencies have a creative at the top table and that person is quite often the figurehead.
Now name the successful regional ones. I can’t even get off one hand and that’s nothing to do with me being a right brainer.
Why is it that the provincial agency owners tend to be non-creative? It’s like we see the success in the capital and think, oh that’s not for us, I’ll start an agency ‘cos my mate runs a sofa factory and I’ll hire a designer-cum-artworker in and someone who can bang out the odd social post. These ‘entrepreneurs’ almost fall into the industry rather than believe in it.
Clients we talk to always put creativity at the top of their list when seeking out an agency partner. Capability to deliver is a given and costs can always be negotiated but the reason for hiring any agency is to provide ideas that cannot be generated elsewhere.
Buttons on websites can be rounded and refinements can be made to digital targeting all to shift dials but if you wanna change things in a big way, then you’re going to need big thinking.
So why are the ideas people not leading the ideas businesses?
Maybe we’re (art directors and copywriters) to blame for not having the balls to start something big. Too easy to leave an agency and become a freelancer rather than have the ambition to create something tangible.
Maybe it’s a reticence from clients to back creative talent but you will sign on the line for the salesman. It has and always will be about who controls the relationship, yet your question should always be “who’s doing the work?”. You wouldn’t hire an architect firm started by a tiler just because they know how to use a spirit level and you’d be hard pushed to trust a butcher to start a zoo just because they have years of working with animals on their CV.
The world’s greatest automotive brands were born out of the passion of engineers not back seat drivers.
The leading tech companies have (or had) the sizeable brains of geeks behind them.
The best ad agencies all have at least one creative name above the door.
So when you’re next looking to draw up a pitch list, ask those on it what credentials the people who run and own it have to call themselves a creative ideas business. Is the work they show produced by that office by people who are still there? Is creativity at the core of their being?
If it isn’t the driving force of the people at the top, then you’re at risk of asking the local pizza franchise to take care of the catering at your daughter’s wedding, which we can all agree may leave you hungry for something a bit more palatable.