Jack Marshall recently typed a piece about how there are very few independent agencies left after Razorfish, Digitas, Schematic, Blast Radius, AKQA, and Huge have all been acquired by Big Four ad holding companies (WPP, Publicis, IPG, and Omnicom). The piece was titled “End of the Indies” and I wanted to respond to it with this blog post as its right in my passion wheelhouse.
For the most part, the advertising world innovates and acts similar to it did way back when. There is not much foundational change. Sure, there are pockets of brilliance (I’d like to think we’re doing very interesting things) but as a whole, the industry is working on a model that existed a long time ago. Many people accuse this old model of being “bad” but then again, isn’t salt sold the same way it was bought by our ancestors thousands of years ago?
I think we are in the early days of the rise of the independent agency. In fact, a whole wave of these indies. In a couple of years, it will be the perfect time to start an agency. There are a few reasons for this and I’d like to explain them:
People: One can argue that the world is not becoming any more creative, but creativity now has a democratized platform to be distributed. The new entrants in to the workforce never knew a world without a keyboard and mouse, ever-present connectivity, and digital cameras. The DNA of this new breed has technological understanding as part of creativity.
This is very different than when I grew up; fewer rather than larger numbers of kids gravitated towards computers and it was typically known as a specialty. I was known as a nerd, even while I was just playing games on my Mac IIe or LC (remember Stunt Copter?)
With this newly trained workforce, creativity is now at everyone’s fingertips which will unfold itself not just in better client strategies, media planning & buying, creative execution, but in organizational re-engineering, organizational behavior, and talent management. The whole way we think about the advertising and marketing business is going to be impacted by this currently young group of people and they will be ready to start running businesses in the next few years.
Economy: While I do not pretend to be an economist, it’s hard to debate that our economy is not overly stable right now. Hearing stories of recent college graduates trying to find jobs to no avail is a commonplace. Expect to see many of the recent graduates either create their own companies (made easier thanks to the Jobs Act) or go and work for a friends startup. Just by the laws of large numbers, we should expect to see many new agencies created by people who have no other opportunity than to start their own company.
Technology: While the workforce certainly understands technology such as how to use a mobile device or download apps to tablets, technology is going to move to the center of the new independent agency. And this will happen from Day 1, not retrofitted like many currently large (non) independent agencies. Because it will be there from Day 1, we’ll see increased efficiencies and effectiveness, plus an open armed approach to welcoming new ways to leverage this technology. Data will be part of all decisions including those in creative and the art of advertising will emerge in leveraging many of the sciences to derive insights that inform strategies. The independent agency should be able to deliver on this vision.
Insurgents Become Incumbents: I gave a pre-read of this post to a colleague of mine who reminded me of Clay Shirkey’s quote in a Wired article. There are plenty of insurgents today who have become the incumbents, many named above and with the notion of the incumbents being much slower than an insurgent, plenty of talent is probably ready to jump ship and start all over again. We see this happen all too much and expect it to happen again here.
I think there are significant opportunities for that emerging independent agency. Plenty of them. I’m curious to see if Adobe, Oracle, SAS, SalesForce, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! start to fund some of these agencies with both capital and technology. I think that could be a really interesting model or eventually, where the insurgent goes to become an incumbent.