From driving an underdog mentality to holding creativity as the cure to marketing's woes, executives at the likes of CP +B, Immediate Future and Essence weighed in on the debate of how to run, grow and retain independence at an agency at The Drum’s Agency Acceleration Day yesterday’s (26 May).
Structure and Creativity
“Creativity is the cure” for CP+B chief creative officer Dave Buonaguidi, who believes that by applying smart minds creatives can come up with more interesting solutions than just a TV ad, and that everyone should have a duty to create a business that is fit for purpose.
“Fill the building full of thinkers and more interesting people and no arseholes, they fuck everything up… We are a service and structure is fundamental,” he said. On the same panel Jonathan Trimble, chief executive of 18 Feet & Rising added that it is a myth that creativity happens by itself.
“When we started we hated that process was in the way – like planning – and the over thinking upfront, so we removed that to get a frictionless way from thought… but it is so easy to lose track. If you don’t have a process it defaults to the client process and then you’re fucked. So maybe it’s not about a process but a discipline, well-practiced and well-rehearsed engineering,” he said.
Blogging as a culture
Blogging is written in to employee’s contracts and KPI’s at Immediate Future, which publishes a daily blog. It is a strategy that helps the agency organically grow business, with an impressive 70 per cent of new business wins acquired without a pitch.
“Everybody from the intern to me and my co-directors blogs once a month,” said Katy Howell, chief executive officer at Immediate Future. “We use a chatty tone of voice, and everybody gets taught it in their induction. We also have a lead table which drives up more enthusiasm and every two weeks you get to see whose blog performs the best.
“We do bully those that consistently don’t blog, and it becomes part of people’s KPIs. If they don’t write a blog then they miss three months-worth of their development programme. But I don’t go around bullying people because you don’t need to; the whole agency is so behind it they are almost embarrassed if they don’t do it”.
Embracing an underdog mentality
By embracing an underdog mentality, agencies are better placed to grow and expand overseas according to Wunderman EMEA chief executive Mel Edwards, who told delegates at the conference that having the “can-do” attitude so often embodied by dark horses aids success.
“I drive that [underdog mentality] through the agency. It’s the team spirit and can do attitude that drives success and it’s really helped me on my journey from chief executive of Wunderman UK to me going global,” she said, adding that building a community is also imperative for an agency.
Wunderman has also ousted appraisals and introduced a concept called 'You Time' that allows employees to schedule 15 mins with their line manager at any time to discuss their development. Instead of waiting a year or six months to talk about their future employees are able to speak regularly with managers in a more dynamic way.
The tricky decision of whether to stay independent or sell your agency to an umbrella company was addressed by Andrew Shebbeare, co-founder and chief product office at Essence. Although the agency was recently acquired by WPP's Group M, Shebbeare argued that being part of a larger group doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to sacrifice acting in an independent way.
“Independence isn’t about who your shareholders are… there are two factors that really make you independent or set up for success: the first is the ability to organise in a way that plays to your strengths and we’ve kept that in this deal.
“The second thought is about the future is that is its about defining your future. The phrase the agency of the future is used a great deal. There is no agency of the future, there are lots of agencies of the future, but it is incumbent on us in this room to define our agency of the future. I know that my agency of the future is very clear to me and I know that this set up allows me to drive towards it.”