How project-based work is liberating creative agencies

‘Are you open to doing projects?’. A question you hear ever so often if you are in the world of advertising and marketing. Sometimes flirtatiously behind the back of an existing relationship. Sometimes teasingly with explorative energy. Sometimes as the most practical way for two interested parties to engage each other.

Whatever the intent, it is the reality we all live in. The past 5 years has seen the landscape change rapidly and has leveled the playing field for both agencies and marketers.

Agencies (S,M,L or XL) can now all vie for the same pie without having to scale up inordinately or worry about warm bodies. A project is quick and tight enough for top talent to work directly on. The rewards are immediate.

Clients (S,M,L or XL) can now access the best of talent (which is now more evenly distributed than say, the noughties) by buying them a-la-carte. With zero based budgets and project based ROI measurement, this seems like a better bet for more and more businesses.

Partnerships in the world of ad business are increasingly measured in terms of intensity, peak experiences and results. Not in terms of length.

There are quarters (or halves) that are still clinging on to an old reality and are refusing to liberate themselves in this world where Messrs. Creativity and Chemistry trump Messrs. Legacy and Size. There is enough written about how this is shaking up the way agency relationships (read finances) have worked all along. Here are some thoughts on how this has liberated our business.

Size has nothing to do with creativity

Size of the business has nothing to do with creativity. And a lot of marketers here have finally accepted that. They’re not starting with ‘who are the biggest agencies in India’, but are starting with ‘who are the guys that did that piece of work’. Which is great, this is the way it is in markets where the work shines through, and this is the way it should be. It is putting the spotlight on people who create great work and not on agencies that have grown inorganically obese over the years. A flurry of independents and boutiques are a testament to this trend.

Best in class vs. Best in the building

Clients are no longer stuck with having to buy the best in the building. Which, most integration peddlers are likely to force down the throat of ‘aligned businesses’. Agencies too can look outside to form a coalition of experts, who are best in class, to attack specific briefs. More and more businesses are experimenting with partnerships across the board and this augurs well for great performers. The best will shine through.

Creativity minus the politics (at least, for most of it)

When you have 2 months to get something out of the door, and that is the period of engagement, everything other than the work tends to take a backseat. Also, a shorter engagement period creates an environment where people are on their best behaviour (well, most of us are).

Collaborators vs. buyers

This is an important one. And it is the changing role of the client in the process of creating great work. With more work becoming project-based, and multiple partnerships becoming a reality, more and more clients are forced to play the role of being the brand custodians. They have to invest time in the creation of the work to ensure that consistency of values, tone and expression in design are maintained. This makes them a co-conspirator rather than someone judging the ideas. And it is making the process of creating work a more enriching one for all parties involved. With everyone invested in the work for the right reasons, there is only one way to go: forward.

Project-based work has definitely levelled the playing field for agencies and marketers. And as we all work through this reality there will be newer ways to organise ourselves to make this financially more rewarding too. And new should always be welcome.

Arvind Krishnan is managing director of BBH India.

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