Why I, unlike 101, won't be selling my indy agency anytime soon

Dan Cullen-Shute is chief executive and founder of Creature of London

Whenever an agency sells, we at Creature are always asked the same question: so - you guys next?

Fuck me, that’s annoying. So yes, after it was announced that 101 had been acquired by MullenLowe, this morning was another one of those annoying times.

Which isn’t to say we’re not happy for Laurence [Green], Mark [Elwood] et al, any more than we weren’t happy for Lucky Generals’ Danny [Brooke-Taylor], Andy [Nairn], and Helen [Calcraft] back in February. They’re brilliant people, and they’ve smashed it.

We’ve already had beers with the Luckys guys (they paid), and we’ll soon have beers with erm, you know, our new Shoreditch neighbours (they’ll pay).

But. But. I’ll confess at this point to a little bit of disappointment – a disappointment which I suspect is shared by quite a few. I've got three main reasons for the disappointment - and I hope that lot won’t hate me for sharing them.

I believe that independent agencies are a hugely important part of our industry, and I believe that the industry thrives when the independent sector thrives. Luckys and 101 were two of the bigger guns. Being independent is a point of difference in a crowded industry, and, put simply, it’s good when there are more of them. It looks less like an anomaly (lower case ‘A’), and more like a different, really good way of doing things.

More selfishly, we relished going up against those brilliant independent bastards in pitches: we knew we’d have to pull our best stuff out of the bag when we did. I got a delicious tingle bumping into Andy Nairn at Coventry station on the way to the FMCG Brand A briefing, or seeing Laurence Green and Richard Flintham at the briefing for FMCG Brand B in Hemel. You find yourself rooting for them, even though you’re against them. I’ll still get that tingle, but it won’t quite be the same.

Most of all, though, I’m disappointed because those two sales ostensibly confirm the accepted narrative when it comes to independent agencies: namely, you set up, it’s hard, you make some good stuff, you sell, you buy a new car, you work your earn out, you leave a billionaire and spend some time recuperating in your shiny new villa in Provence/Tuscany/Andalusia* (*delete as appropriate).

I don’t think Creature had been open more than a month before we started getting the jokes about 'Sir Martin coming a-calling'. We hadn’t been open more than 18 months before letters (always letters, never emails) on really nice paper started arriving from people who were going to help us ‘realise our dream’, and help us ‘leverage our value with an efficiently managed transfer of control’. It hadn’t been more than three years before a we heard from a network.

And all the while, the jokes never stopped - from friends, clients, colleagues … Anyone who knew anything about advertising knew exactly what we were up to, because it was the only reason you set up your own place. Right?

Well, no. When Robert Saville et al set up Mother in 1997, they weren’t interested in a ‘transfer of control’. They were interested in building the best agency in the world. When another gang set up Fallon’s London office a year later, they were focused on sweating the asset; they wanted to tear everything apart, make amazing things, and make the world watch. Wieden+Kennedy opened in London around the same time, and their job was always to make brilliant stuff, and grow because of it.

These people ploughed their own furrow because they wanted to grow something fucking amazing, and unleash it on the world.

And then, at some point, the narrative changed. Selling became expected, not a surprise. And that’s a shame.

Because here’s the thing: we have no interest in selling Creature. None. I can’t speak for Now, or The Corner, or Joint, or WhoWotWhy, or any of the other brilliant independents out there, but we haven’t set this place up to sell: we’ve set it up to bring a bunch of brilliant idiots together to misbehave and make a whole bunch of brilliant stuff that our mums can tell their friends about.

We’re not idiots, and we’re not naive – trust me, we’ve been through enough to know that money matters. But if that’s why you’re doing this, then you’ve lost sight of how much fun this independent lark can be, and of how vital this weird, exhausting old rollercoaster is to a brilliant industry.

Someone way smarter than I once said ‘the fire burns brighter at independent agencies’. Our job for the foreseeable is to keep it burning.

Dan Cullen-Shute is chief executive and founder of Creature of London. He tweets at @creature_dan

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