Creature of London managing partner Dan Shute
Creature of London managing partner Dan Shute
A view from Dan Shute

How marketers work with agencies has changed, so our contracts must reflect this

There were definitely no midriffs on show at a recent London seminar but it was as useful as the Cannes Lions jamboree, says Dan Shute,...

In the last month or so, I’ve been to two industry things; two industry things that seem, at first glance (and, if I’m honest, after a good, hard stare), to sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. The first is that much maligned/envied festival of debauchery and creativity, Cannes; the second is the breakfast seminar that took place at ISBA a couple of weeks before, at which a pair of shiny new agency/client contract framework documents were launched.

Cannes was brilliant. Sure, there were awful bits, because, frankly, there are an awful lot of awful people in Cannes

So, first up: Cannes was brilliant. Sure, there were awful bits, because, frankly, there are an awful lot of awful people in Cannes; and yes, that repetition of ‘awful’ was very, very deliberate. But the awful bits were far outweighed by the people that remind you why you get into advertising; the great work that isn’t scam; the new people that aren’t awful; the food; and hell, yeah, the wine, because why not? Wine is ace.

Wine aside, Cannes this year was obsessed with the future; of how things were going to be; of how advertising can be Good, as well as good… Cannes 2015 represented the future of the industry, and thousands of marketers had turned up from all over the world to toast that, with expensive rosé and taut midriffs, because it was important; if not Important, with a capital I.

There were significantly fewer people at ISBA to hear about the new contract frameworks, literally no speedboats, and any midriffs, taut or otherwise, remained professionally covered. There was no rosé whatsoever. But, despite that, that morning seminar in Covent Garden was no less useful than what took place on La Croisette.

Let me tell you a story

When Creature first started, back in 2011, we could barely afford our flat whites, let alone legal advice - which meant, for a while, we were at the mercy of anyone who knew what they were doing; but you get by. You write your own contracts for client relationships, stretching your French and Spanish degrees in ways you’re fairly sure they weren’t mean to go. You survive.

And then you discover the IPA-approved contract template, created by a bunch of folk from ISBA, the IPA, and elsewhere (sorry if I’ve missed you - I was still at school) in 1998; and everything changes. It’s a glorious document; a document that makes you feel like there might actually be a future. And, most importantly, you feel like that future isn’t guaranteed by a contract written by an idiot with a Modern Languages degree.

We’ve used that contract ever since, and been grateful for it - not because it’s easier, and not because it’s a time-saver, but because it meant starting from a common, agreed ground. And of course, no contract built on the template is ever going to be quite the same, because no client/agency relationship is quite the same. But they’re always built on fair foundations, and that’s one hell of a start.

The fact is, though, that 1998 template was creaking a bit, as you might expect. Hell, in the three years we’ve been using the document, we’ve bolted so many bits on to it that Frankenstein’s monster wouldn’t get off with it. The industry has shifted, relationships have changed, media have been born, and these documents are an attempt to reflect that.

I don't agree with the argument that the new contract endorses a culture where clients treat agencies as a tissue to be tossed once the marketing mess has been mopped up

Because yes, for those who aren’t aware, there are two new documents; a retained relationship framework; and a project-based relationship framework that ISBA and the IPA produced. There have been some negative voices around the existence of the project-based document, suggesting this is an endorsement of a culture where agencies are treated as disposable resource - a tissue to be tossed once a client’s marketing mess has been mopped up.

But I don’t agree; not because I’m one of those rapier-wielding MDs who believes agencies thrive on the uncertainty of a project-based relationship (call me naive, but at Creature, we don’t need to be scared to try), but simply because there are more and more project based relationships nowadays, and up ’til now, we’ve kind of been making them up.

Of course, these contracts aren’t perfect. But ISBA and the IPA never claimed them to be; they’re templates, and they’re works in progress, created by people who are working hard to help, and they’ve now been shared with anyone who wants to engage in the conversation to make things better. The two principal industry bodies have worked together with the lawyers that represent a fair bunch of us (now that we can afford them) to give us a platform on which we can build something brilliant, that truly represents both the present and the future of the industry. And while I wouldn’t have said no to a couple of bottles of Provence’s finest, that felt pretty Important - with a capital I - to me.