Feature

If I launched an agency ..

Freelancers rather than full-time staff; a constantly evolving agency name; and no permanent clients. Is this the future of the ad agency? Campaign asked seven wannabes what their own agency would look like, what its primary function would be and, more importantly, how it would survive.

MATTHEW KIERNAN, PLANNING ASSISTANT, ZENITHOPTIMEDIA

Now is a good time to launch an agency. The underlying economy is improving, there will be an increasing availability of bank loans and venture capital and clients anticipate bigger marketing budgets. On top of this, there is a large pool of very talented and recruitable people out there!

What sort of agency? My passion is sport and I am drawn to working with sports clients. I am buoyed by the upcoming "golden decade" of British sport and the opportunities that lie ahead for agencies that can help clients commercially get the best out of this unique period.

These events will stimulate a large increase in ad expenditure, investment and attention from home and abroad and a general national sporting optimism. Sport already accounts for 2 to 3 per cent of the UK's GDP, and although there is existing competition within this sector, I believe the demand for sports marketing will allow for new market entrants. The list of possible clients is extensive and my agency would target sporting brands, teams, governing bodies and events. My clients would initially be challenger brands that might fall below the gaze of the bigger agencies.

I believe, particularly for these organisations, an agency that is capable of meeting all of their marketing needs would be an attractive and cost-effective proposition. I would propose setting up a "virtual hub and spoke" agency with experienced and sports passionate creatives, strategists and client-serving account handlers at its "hub", all with a share in ownership.

I would then outsource both internal administration and specialist services (eg. production and media planning and buying) - the "spokes". This will keep expensive, wholly employed staff (who may only be needed for certain campaigns) and overheads to a minimum, enabling the service offer to be highly cost-effective as well as offering best-in-class sector competence and a concentrated knowledge of all aspects of sporting business.

The success of my agency hinges on the seamless collaboration of the full-time staff with the trusted specialists and agencies to create cost-effective and eye-catching campaigns. An obsession with sport, ideas and outstanding client service would allow my agency to confidently pitch for and develop long-term relations with companies looking to establish a foothold within the sporting sector during this upcoming "golden decade" and beyond.

CARLOTTA BRENTAN, ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE, SAATCHI & SAATCHI

Asked to consider what I would do if I were to launch my very own agency, my instincts are conflicting. On one level, there's the strong suspicion I should say something about a revolutionary "digital" or "integrated" agency model. Right behind this comes the notion that, as a wise man once said, "different has already been done", and none of this is original anymore.

So, what I'm left with is the simple conviction that, whatever the model, it is bound to become obsolete if it doesn't constantly evolve and adapt to constantly changing demands.

My agency will therefore be based around the belief that it's not the structure that should shape the ideas but rather the idea that should determine the structure. We'll have a very small stable core of people - I'd say five or six - with different and multidisciplinary backgrounds. Perhaps an ex-creative director, an eclectic strategist and someone who knows about money - but, crucially, people who can identify the most appropriate experts for any task.

We'll have a score of specialist freelancers orbiting around us, from digital gurus to architects and art historians, to call upon when their skill is required. We'll form and dismantle partnerships with production houses, record labels and other ad agencies, all the while working with one objective: assemble the best expertise to produce the most effective and relevant creative solution.

To avoid all temptation of settling into a rigid structure, we'll never take on clients permanently - however much they may beg us to. Rather, we'll work on a project-by-project basis, stopping to reassess after each. We'll consequently morph into a nearly unrecognisable entity with each project we undertake, which is why I think we'll be called "Project X", where "X" is substituted every few months with names of current freelancers, of our latest project or, perhaps, just our latest source of inspiration. Yes, and our clientele would range from established brands looking for something new to very small, local businesses in need of a one-off. In fact, we'll be in a shop-front in London, to encourage people to walk in and request our attention.

Finally, we'll all go to great lengths to remain sane, interesting people with no temptation to ever brief our kids or share feedback with our partners. Every couple of years, we'll each take a few months' sabbatical to go somewhere else, do something different and learn something new - just for good measure.

BEN SMITH, REGIONAL AND DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS EXECUTIVE, ROCKET

Let's take a look into the future.

My media agency would be the first port of call for clients' communications investment. Advances in technology will have an accelerated effect on every aspect of the media agency and these advances will mean that there is no longer a distinction between creative input and media planning. I may well employ some creative resource.

My agency would be structured in a truly flexible way. Planners will be experts in all forms of traditional media and advocates of emerging technologies and communication methods. When a new brief is issued, planning teams will form looking at how best to make consumer connections, drawing in freelance expertise when required. In these teams, application designers and social media experts will brainstorm with creatives and multimedia planners to produce all-embracing communications solutions.

Social media techniques will have been mastered. New touchpoints will be understood with greater speed and depth. As the latest social media craze is embraced by consumers, my planners will better understand how to reach them, using a new generation of planning tools and systems.

My agency might not have a traditional buying department. The buying process will have been refined to a level that allows more efficient negotiation techniques. Media space will be bought in a consolidated environment, which I would utilise.

In this future, my clients will be able to track their investment through each campaign. The accountability seen now in direct media communications will be true of all channels and planners will increasingly provide in-depth investment advice. This will improve client/agency relationships. Remuneration models will change to reflect this and my agency would earn income from consultancy projects and business-based performance bonuses.

Business will be won by the most technologically equipped agencies and by those who embrace flexibility and change. A reputation for innovation will not only attract new clients but also the best talent. My agency will invest heavily in developing skills and sharing knowledge. It will also use progressive employment strategies and I'd imagine employing as many people on flexible contracts as I would on a full-time basis.

The pioneering agency will succeed where others fail and I would spend a lot of time and effort creating a culture that fosters a pioneering product.

PAUL PEARSON AND LAILA MILBORROW, COPYWRITER/ART DIRECTOR, ARCHIBALD INGALL STRETTON

Boundary n. pl. bound.a.ries; the line or plane indicating the limit or extent of something.

We were taught that an idea shouldn't have boundaries: there should be nothing to hold it back, nothing to stop it changing and definitely nothing to stop it from growing.

That's why we'd really want to work with brave clients who aren't afraid of doing things differently. And not just because we'd try to create radical, controversial or dangerous work. But because the way our agency would work would be radical, controversial and dangerous.

We wouldn't have a permanent location - we don't think we'd need one. There wouldn't be any full-time staff either, other than us and an enthusiastic suit with a head for business. We'd put together teams of freelancers that would be selected for each job. So we'd have the freedom to work in any country, on any brief, for any client, at any time.

And these teams wouldn't always contain the same mix of people. Some jobs might need a big strategic idea while others need a more creative execution.

By having small teams, which can be tailored, the face of our agency would be constantly changing, adapting and evolving. One day we would be acting as an above-the-line agency and the next, product invention.

For us, that's the best bit because we wouldn't be a specific type of agency, we wouldn't have to confine ourselves to specific types of jobs. We would always want to solve whatever problem the client has tasked us with but, not necessarily, in the way they would expect.

Would it make any money? We'd like to think so. But day after day, week after week, there would be different challenges to face. And that sounds like a whole load of fun to us.

If we launched an agency, it would be one without definition. Because the moment we define it, we constrain it.

BEN SHAW, ACCOUNT MANAGER, BARTLE BOGLE HEGARTY

Greek Fire is an agile ideas business built for the digital world, which uses creativity to unlock communication value for clients faster and cheaper than ever before.

We offer a more commercially accountable agency model based around the success of great ideas, rather than time spent on a project.

Greek fire was an innovative Byzantine weapon for a crowded battlefield that literally blew away the competition. With the rise of the internet generation, a new battlefield for advertising has emerged, one that is defined by attention spans that don't even last for a 30-second spot. Just as the Byzantines set fire to enemy ships to win wars, we must now turn ideas into wildfires to gain audience attention and create fame for our campaigns.

The path to fame has become increasingly difficult in a culture cluttered with ever-changing memes, trends and viral crazes. We live in an age where agencies have to embrace the unpredictability of sneezing panda viral hits and keep up with real-time updates, rather than sit back and applaud the fancy new TV ad that you spent months toiling over.

That's why we repurpose the traditional "big idea" as a creative match to spark lots of little fires. An idea on fire today may have fizzled out by tomorrow - so we spread our bets across a number of executions. We see what catches, then fuel the propagation with a boost of media budget and some creative builds.

The data from every point of the campaign is scrutinised, analysed and creatively reviewed so its potential is maximised before it loses buzz.

We learnt from successful web start-ups that we needed tight teams with diverse skills. Teams work collaboratively to get the job done in time - everyone helps manage clients, develop strategy and produce creative. As a result, our staff come from a variety of backgrounds; from coders to screenwriters - we hire smart, web-savvy and enthusiastic individuals. To keep the dynamics of a culture that is this tightly focused around our key values, we like to keep our numbers at around 30. We're looking to make a name for ourselves before we plan for expansion.

The ability to create, evaluate and adapt your ideas to your environment is key to success in any battle. Be it Roman war ships or apathetic teenagers, whatever your idea, you have to set their world alight.

SETH CAMPBELL, ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE, DARE

While every agency claims to understand their client's business, it strikes me that many agencies are too distant to confidently apply the required expertise.

The internet has brought transparency. Consumer choices are influenced less and less by messages about how great product X is, and far more by their direct experiences of organisations. This fact, combined with the ability of us all to communicate these experiences to others with such ease through technology, invites a rethink of how communications agencies are set up and engaged.

My agency would therefore focus not only on communications but, first and foremost, on the behaviours at the heart of their organisations.

Our approach to clients' challenges would be:

1. To evaluate how the business' operations and culture affect how they are perceived.

2. To propose ways to improve internal operations and processes to positively impact consumer experiences of the company.

3. To communicate existing or new behaviours identified by engaging "best of breed" production expertise.

To fulfil this consultative role and ensure that solutions were not led by channel thinking, the company would comprise a team of smart, flexible and strategically minded experts driven by open-mindedness to solving business challenges. I would structure the agency in client-based teams of three; one with a business analysis focus, one with a creative communications focus and one with a management and production focus.

Consistency of the core client team would be prioritised to ensure a build of knowledge over time, working together throughout to ensure shared exposure to the organisation.

I would also look to put a core team on more than one piece of client business to ensure we don't become too much of a "client extension".

With production outsourced, I'd keep the agency small with a target of around ten to 20 "client teams".

Based on this approach, I would be happy to recommend a remuneration model based on the performance of the thinking and work delivered.

In summary, I believe that it is at the heart of an organisation, not at arm's length, where outside expertise can best add value. Growing more valuable customer relationships often requires bigger thinking than a focus on campaigns; and this is what my agency would set out to deliver.

Topics