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Sell ideas, not time: how Grand Prix winner The Liberty Guild transformed the agency model

Could The Liberty Guild's new model be the start of an industry-wide revolution?

The Liberty Guild began with a bold premise: that advertising is a multi-billion-dollar broken business. Winning the ‘Business Transformation Strategy’ category, it went on to win the Grand Prix at the at The Drum Awards for Agency Business in 2021. Here, the team behind the entry explains why - and how - it turned the traditional agency model on its head.

As with anything creative, the best way to start is with a blank sheet of paper. We had to ensure product market fit, before we developed the MVP, before we took it to investors.

Objectives and strategy

Product market fit started with interviews with 600 marketeers, creatives, strategists and production businesses. We shared our business model and asked, ‘how could it be better?’ The State of the advertising Nation was as sad as it was alarming.

Advertising is seen to be a multi-billion-dollar market that’s still running on a broken business model created in the ‘50s. It is lethargic, ego-driven, and political, where clients are marginalised, consumers are ignored, and the focus on selling hours has made it slow and added so unnecessary layers to pack the margin. It’s just not fit for purpose anymore.

It’s just not about the creativity anymore. The reason all of us got into the business. It’s about the money. The margin.

So, we spent a year talking to and understanding the hopes and fears of the nomadic community of ‘A-list’ creative and strategic talent who have made the decision to leave agency life. We listened to people of all ages, all genders, all over the world.

And there was a desire for a viable alternative to working all hours god sends and having zero work/life balance. We could see the start of an exodus to a portfolio career. Some had private clients, some worked with agencies, some worked directly with brand and some have personal projects. And they were all flourishing.

For them, it wasn’t — and still isn’t — about working from home, it’s about working from anywhere. And there’s a massive difference. On the whole, they haven’t been forced to work from the kitchen table by the global pandemic, they have made the explicit choice to jump off the burning platform and find sanctuary. You can find them in the north of Scotland, the west coast of France, The Grenadines, Crouch End, Goa, wherever.

So our objectives were clear;

  • We want to transform the industry to break its obsession with size as well as shape.

  • We want to help create the future where our workplace is not ‘one front door’, or ‘horizontality’, or ‘global team whoever’.

  • We want to embrace the pool of outstanding freelance talent around the world.

  • We want to prove that the creative and strategic elite has the skillset, and the working practices clients and agencies need.

  • We want to show the industry that high performance teams have an optimal shape and size. And it’s small. Not big.

  • We want to engineer that ‘optimal’ structure to be replicable time and time again and therefore become eminently scalable.

Execution

We have co-created the model our industry actually needs.

For our clients, we have made the experience an efficient pleasure - with quality, value and speed being brought together for the first time; we have fulfilled the Creatives need to do creative work without politics and interference; and - for ourselves - we have developed an efficient, forward facing ‘lean’ business.

This digital transformation has allowed us to achieve the following;

Breaking geographies

The World is global and connected, yet agencies are only open to people and ethnicities who live within commuting distance of their city. We built a tech stack using the most powerful solutions available, that enabled us to bring the work to them, removing any geographic barriers and restrictions and freeing the talent up to do the best work of their lives.

Selling ideas, not hours

When you don’t charge by the hour, it’s amazing how speed becomes your friend. We completely re-designed the creative process, no longer the long drawn out process so typical in the traditional ad model; Our process is built on empirical data collected over a four year, pre-launch beta which gives us the optimum timing for brilliant creative work.

Creative casting and compensation

On each project, we use a mixture of data analysis, ‘passion’ casting and years of psychographic profiling to select the perfect team for the brief. The brief is only shared with the teams on the brief. We are not an open source ‘collective’.

Depth and breadth of ideas

We show our clients anywhere between 10 and 20 ideas. From all over the world. Like in the best tissue session of the best pitch, the client is blown away by the quality and diversity of the ideas.

With the consumer in the room

The agency current set up is massively subjective. ECD vs CMO - whose opinion counts more? We invite the important people into the room. We invite consumers in. At the halfway stage, and at the final stage, we put the ideas into qualitative and quantitative research anywhere in the world to enable us to create work or brands or products that people actually want.

Tech stack taking the strain

Using technology to connect with our talent meant we could strip out the layers and layers of account management and producers so typical in a usual agency.

We stand for, and with, the independent creative community

No one stands for the talent in the global debate about the future of the business. They are the sine qua non of the business that we all love. You will hear vocal opinions from Clients, Agencies (indie and network), the Consultancies, VC’s and the Holding Groups new and old. The talent, up until now, has had no voice.

The Liberty Guild are giving those who both buy and sell creativity the freedom to do it on their terms. In doing so, we are sparking the beginning of an industry-wide shift in power, culture, motivation and value, back to ideas and those amazing people who have them.

Effectiveness

In creating The Liberty Guild, we’ve created a structure, a process and a culture that allows us to thrive creatively and positively impact our client’s business.

It’s the shift in our business model from FTE’s to a-list independents, and from shackled to liberated that has allowed this culture to flourish. Everyone works with us and for us because they want to, because they enjoy it and because they thrive. Everyone leaves in a better place than before we met.

The material impact on our business has been transformative too;

  • We have shown independent creative talent that there is another way: 251% increase in the size of our global Creative and Strategic community (now 300 people across 27 countries).

  • We have been recognised and certified as a Great Place to Work

  • 120% increase in Client projects, showing the greatest customer loyalty imaginable.

  • 100% repeat business. Clients are coming back for more work. Their first experience warranted another.

  • 87% average Purchase Intent score against our creative work (and independently researched)

  • Our model was awarded a Management Today ‘Best Use of Innovation Award’

  • We have shown the industry that competitive pitching isn’t necessary. We never pitch.

  • We can demonstrate that brilliant cared-for talent will always answer the brief brilliantly.

  • We’re on our way to being Certified a BCorp - with a score on par with Ben and Jerrys

  • We became certified Carbon Neutral

  • 203% increase in our revenue, whilst the core team (permanent staff) remained the same

  • Our desire to see the industry change, and to be leading that change, has been written about in the broadsheets, the industry press and by Clients and Creatives alike.

Client testimonials

“… your set up is surely absolutely perfect - you already know how to work effectively with virtual teams, which must make you light years ahead of your competition.” - ex-CMO, easyJet

“Liberty Guild is a breath of fresh air having worked in the industry for over 20 years now. The process and the set-up is really adapted to the way consumer communication has evolved - fluid, media agnostic, agile, and very consumer driven. The quality of the healthy debates we have is a proof of the senior and high experienced individuals behind the team, allowing us to build on each other’s points of view that yield nothing but better outputs.” - Senior Marketing Manager, Global Innovation, CPW Nestle

“So impressed with the quality and quantity compared to my traditional agency partners.” - European CMO, Global Beverage Company

Talent testimonials

Our people; our talent; our one true competitive advantage we have over the next Agency summarise what we stand for beautifully:

“What I love about the Liberty Guild is the way of working that fits our times. Especially in 2020. But even more importantly it's a fantastic collection of talented and positive doers that make work a pleasure.” — Mark Hendy

“Liberty Guild is a truly modern advertising solution, fit for the modern world. None of the legacy hierarchy or head count, just all of the talent and brains. It makes you feel like you’re part of a team of superheroes, on a mission.”— Bo Helberg

“Working for The Liberty Guild is like working at one of the best agencies in town, without having to be in town. Big clients, great briefs, and top class, brainy, lovely people. And we get to access it all from a fishing village in Scotland.” — Married ECD team, Ex Wieden + Kennedy & Google

“Creativity is individual. Everyone has their own rhythm. 
But big agency life pushes its rhythm on you. With The Liberty Guild you are your own agency. The conditions for finding your best work could not be better.” — CCO & Founder, Interactive Agency of the Year

“The Liberty Guild is a mix of evolution and natural selection. A constellation of star players connected when they need to be. Without the monolithic processes or structures, none of the P&L’s or politics. Just a single-minded and unadulterated focus on great work that drives great results. A new and modern organisation built on agile principles, with people who have decades of experience. Awesome.”— CCO & Digital/PR/Client side Legend

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