Independent Influence: Idea Farmer tends the creative soil

Welcome to Independent Influence, a weekly series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies across the country. This week we feature Idea Farmer.

People often talk about "brainstorming," as though ideas can be driven out of people's heads in a military-style thinking assault. It's not unusual for corporate brainstorming sessions to take on that sort of atmosphere.

Josh Beane, CEO and founder of Los Angeles-based Idea Farmer, thinks differently. For Beane and his team, ideas can't be driven or rounded up. Ideas are tiny packets of living potential. They require careful nurturing and room to grow.

Idea Farmer is an independent, full-service creative agency that handles everything from strategy to execution. Its clients range from farmer-friendly local retailers like Juice Served Here to eco-conscious global enterprises like Subaru. Additionally, KitchenAid is the agency’s largest clients and was the foundation for its growth when they began working with the brand in 2014.

The agency parcels out its creative offerings in five phases: till, seed, sprout, cultivate and harvest — in keeping with the farming milieu and Beane’s own story.

"Growing up, the biggest storyteller I had around me was my grandfather on my mom's side," Beane, a Mississippi native, recalled. "He was a farmer. You can't just sit around and watch crops grow, so he was always getting into mischief and telling cool stories, or just out living an adventurous life."

From his grandfather, Beane learned not just how to truly live, but also the elements of how to keep audiences engaged. "As you know, grandparents are special," Beane commented with a smile. "I think parents we kind of rebel against. Grandparents are the ones we always go to for advice. They have that cool factor. I know I appreciate it more every day now, but even in my early 20s, when I really started getting into storytelling, I started referencing my grandfather in the process."

Although Beane's green thumb for storytelling came naturally, he developed it further by working in television and film. "In the film world, if you heard somebody say, 'Oh, don't worry about it, we'll fix it in post,' then you knew that person was full of bullshit. I'm like, 'No, no, no. You're not paying attention to the process.' I feel that that is so important, and it's kind of farmer-esque."

In a larger sense, the farming life is all about recognizing the greater cycles in life and appreciating that there's a time for everything. Risk is inherent in every action, and there's an even greater risk in doing nothing at all. For Beane, that naturally led him to the conclusion that an independent life was really his only option.

Idea Farmer rose from the fertile soil of his restless imagination. "I've always had a hustler's mentality, to be honest," Beane confesses. "My mindset has always been that I want to live and die by my own sword. It was taking a risk, yes, but I thought, 'If I'm gonna do it, let's do it.' If I'm working this hard and so far away from my family, I should be doing the things I want to do, and working for somebody else's dime is not what I want to do anymore."

For many entrepreneurs, that means growing a company until it's ready to be harvested by a larger enterprise. Beane tried that, but something didn't sit right with his farmer's soul. "I sold Idea Farmer in 2015, and then I bought in back in 2016 because I realized I didn't want to work for other people. I have no problem with partners and things like that, but I realized in my career that I really wanted to be the person at the end of the day who made it all work. Right or wrong, it all fell back on me."

The entire concept of applying lessons from farming to creative services is much richer than a metaphor. It's really become more of a living, breathing allegory for Beane. He even draws important lessons from crop rotation on managing the organic fertility of his agency's ideas.

"Look at the health of soil, for example," Beane says. "It's not a one-and-done process. It's seasonal. It's a rotation. It's cyclical and it's always going to come back around. The same is true for client relationships. If you do great work, then another job can grow from those clients. To this day we've never solicited business. We are supported by our repeat clients, whether they move to different companies or whatever. It's all about the health of the creative soil that we cultivate within us, and our relationships, and the storytelling process."

In the world of agriculture, though, it seems like the small, independent farms are disappearing in the face of relentless competition from corporate agro-business. Does Beane worry about the same thing happening to independent creative agencies? Quite the opposite, in fact.

Just as rooftop gardens and urban micro-farms have bloomed, redefining farming in the 21st century, the time is ripe for a flourishing of the independent agency ecosystem around the world.

"The landscape is changing so rapidly," Beane observed. "That's a positive for an independent agency, because the big conglomerates like slow-moving machines. It just takes a lot of time for them to get things done or to even move the needle. Right now, there's a great opportunity for independents to stand out from the sea of same and break down some barriers." Just as countless civilizations have discovered over the centuries, nature always wins.

Independent Influence is supported by Choozle, an independent digital advertising platform.

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