Weirdness thrives in independent agencies - and it can make business better
A view from Dan Shute

Weirdness thrives in independent agencies - and it can make business better

Independent agencies can be weird places to work, but doing things differently can also give you a business advantage, says Creature's chief executive.

Independent agencies have always done things a bit differently. Whether that’s Now and their brilliant parental leave policies; Gravity Road and their refusal to believe that ads need to be 30" long or that "content" can’t be advertising; or Mother and their refusal to hire account people (confession: I’m not ENTIRELY on board with that one). Hell, just look at the names – Krow, Mr President, WhoWotWhy, 18 Feet & Rising… Weirdness thrives in an independent agency, and it’s a glorious thing.

And we’re no different.

We’re not a big agency, but we’re not exactly small. We’ve outsourced all of our production from the very beginning, which keeps the numbers down, so we’ve never been more than 50 people; yet we were named one of 1,000 Companies To Inspire Britain In 2017 by the London Stock Exchange. Not THAT weird, I suppose, but we’ve definitely always looked smaller than we’ve felt.

We’re not old, as founders or as an agency, but we’ve been through more in the last six years than most people go through in a lifetime. From massive highs, like winning pitches for brands like Carling, Adidas, Anchor and the like, to equally massive lows: you haven’t lived ’til you’ve engineered an ostensibly friendly takeover of your own company from a bunch of Americans. (That’s a pub story.) We’re still fresh-faced and mad with enthusiasm, but if you peek beneath the beards and the plaid shirts, you’ll find battle scars to compare with the best of them. That’s pretty weird.

We’ve said no to as many pitches as we’ve said yes to, and we’re still annoyingly principled about what we will and won’t do. (Yes to booze, hard no to gambling or e-cigs.) Odd, and fairly rare.

We’re definitely an advertising agency (we fucking LOVE being an advertising agency), but we’re currently developing a TV format, we’ve made as many music videos as we have websites, we’re all qualified beekeepers, and we’ve been nominated for more Oliviers than we have Cannes Lions. Definitely a bit weird.

In an industry with more than its fair share of bloated egos, we’re self-deprecating to the point of self-harm. Seriously, if you give us an hour, we’ll spend at least 45 minutes of it telling you how excited we are that you’re here, and apologising that our office is surrounded by a building site. You don’t know how I’m going to finish this article, but I do, and it’s making me feel slightly sick. (You’ll get there.) (Hopefully.) (There’s that self-deprecation again.) We’re an agency that hates showing off. That’s definitely weird.

We like procurement, as I’ve written elsewhere in the past. We’re already pretty efficient in how we run, and haven’t actually got anything to hide, which definitely helps: but good procurement people help make processes more efficient, which frees up more money to spend on the cool stuff. It feels like loving that SHOULDN’T be weird, but experience suggests we’re definitely in the minority. Bloody weirdos.

Pitch rehearsals make us sick. Like, properly nauseous. We’ve never done them, and we never will. Which, funnily enough, made Camilla, our head of new business and marketing, feel a bit sick when she joined us. "Weird" wasn’t the word she used, but there were plenty of others.

We are, as Peter Cowie once memorably termed us, "scruffy fuckers". Shamefully, I haven’t actually got a counterpoint to that one. We’re just naturally a bit scruffy. Sorry, PC. Sorry, everyone.

Of course, if we weren’t independent, we probably wouldn’t be allowed to be so weird. People would probably insist on there being a bit more "business rigour" behind some of our decisions, which would cut out a whole load of things that "don’t make money immediately", as the accountants say (fewer music videos, a couple more gambling clients, one less failed music festival, and a distinct lack of Olivier nominations). What independence doesn’t provide in terms of, well, loads of money, it more than makes up for in terms of freedom to be what we want to be, not what a network boss thinks we should.

Fortunately – deep breath – as well as weird, one of the other things we are is seriously fucking good – now more than ever. We win pitches against big, famous agencies, and we make award-winning work for big clients, for small clients, and for everywhere-in-between-clients. And we do it our way, with a stupid name, like the bunch of brilliant bloody weirdos we are. And with every day that passes, we get a little bit more comfortable with just how weird we are. Because sometimes "weird" is a pretty cool thing to be.

Dan Shute is chief executive and co-founder of Creature of London.