A rallying call to the next generation of media agency leaders
A view from Sam Drake

A rallying call to the next generation of media agency leaders

Why Goodstuff has picked up a metaphorical bucket of petrol and are pouring it on the emerging flames of the UK media agency start-up scene

Keith Weed is only partially right. 

Last week at IAB Engage, one of the most respected marketers in our industry said, "the world has moved very fast and in my experience, the agencies haven’t moved fast enough". He continued to suggest that the ultimate consequence of such lethargy will see more clients taking media in-house. 

There are two issues here to unpack. The first around the agility and pace of agency change, the second about clients taking some media in-house. 

Let me deal with clients taking media in-house first as I’m not convinced the two are always linked. Most clients who take media in-house are taking the digital acquisition activity in house, or in old language, the (ecommerce) sales department because it’s about data confidentiality, customer management and building a digital sales and entrepreneurial culture. This makes perfect sense and many ecommerce businesses are likely to consider in-housing to a degree, regardless of how fast their agencies have moved.

But the main point was about how quickly or not the media industry is keeping pace with change, and here I think Keith Weed is a bit off the mark.

Now, I’ll freely admit that I don’t intimately know Keith’s diary, but I’m guessing he spends most of his agency time with hugely impressive, but still legacy global networks. Agencies that were born decades ago who, among other operational challenges, are creating senior ‘transformational’ roles to help them adapt to modern client needs. By contrast, I suspect he spends very little time with newer media agencies who were born on modern principles such as strategic objectivity, technological impartiality, operation agility and financial transparency. 

But, if Keith would care to dig a bit deeper we have some good news. 

Media agencies are changing for the better and we hope through our new Starstuff initiative (more later), we can accelerate this change even faster. 

So, where’s the evidence of change?  At the global holding company level, there is Spark Foundry, Essence and Hearts & Science, all business that appear at least to be based on modern client needs. In the independent sector, let’s not forget the two agencies of the year (Campaign and Media Week) are Goodstuff and the7stars, both of which morph to meet the ever-changing demands of their clients. 

Then there is the increasing emergence of new players, Yonder from Above & Beyond, Bountiful Cow from the7stars, Wax/On, Craft, Truth (RYVL) and Crossmedia making the jump into the UK market.

But, while it’s welcome, it’s not enough. By far. 

A quick look at the Top 20 UK media agency offerings show 18/20 are taken by the global networks, which is in stark contrast to the Top 20 UK creative agencies where there are six times more options outside the global goliaths. 

A major reason why there are not more independent media offerings is simply because it’s so bloody hard turning an idea into a sustainable and profitable reality in what is a technical and financially complex industry. To offer media you need a professional finance function, research, social and data capabilities and media accreditation (which can take years, no trade bodies being singled out…). This is even before you have secured the best planning and client servicing talent.

Which means lots of media people who have great ideas fall back into their network agency lives.

So, we’ve picked up a metaphorical bucket of petrol and are pouring it on the emerging flames of the UK media agency start-up scene hoping it will become a catalyst for change. 

Startstuff is our £1m initiative which launched yesterday where we hope to find the next generation of agency owners. The next PHD, the next Naked, the next MGM and the next Goodstuff. We want more people to make the jump in an industry they and we give a shit about and we will offer support, services and financial contributions.

People will naturally fear getting it wrong and making mistakes but we hope Goodstuff can remove some of the barriers and fears people may have. As Ben Priest said when departing Adam & Eve/DDB, "We sort of ignored all the advice we got, we made lots and lots and lots of mistakes. It’s very easy to think that people in this industry have a magic key to the kingdom. The truth is, it’s not a science, everyone’s making it up as they go along and kind of winging it," "Work hard, be very honest with yourself and with each other. And go for it." 

Whether people have already started on their journey or are sitting at their desks thinking about it, we feel the time is right for the next generation of entrepreneurs to have a go, go for it and get in touch. Who knows, there might be an offering that Keith Weed likes. 

Sam Drake is a managing partner of Goodstuff

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