The ever-changing ad agency. Integration or Evolution?

September 23, 2008

My business partner, Ron Bess has an interesting theory about our business. He posited that agencies, in order to flourish, must now evolve every six to eight months.

For example agency X is an advertising/design boutique in the 1st quarter. A new client demands expertise in promotion and by the 4th quarter the shop is touting it’s promotional capabilities in its credentials. After all, they now have a case study, fresh and robust. Perhaps two or three new employees, versed in promotion, have been hired. The home office in New York now regards the shop as its promotional arm and, voila, agency X is reborn. While this is a gross over-simplification of Ron’s notion, it is accurate. Agencies evolve. Rapidly. Often the new entity is very different from the one that preceded it. A byproduct of “integration” or is there more to it?

Leo Burnett supported the development of LBWorks (my previous agency) in order to service B2B and technology clients. There was a glaring need for specialists in these areas and we got after it. That said I remember being scared at the prospect of leading the agency’s creative department. I had no issue with technology but B2B? Wasn’t that just code for trade ads? And weren’t trade ads the providence of advertising’s minor leagues? I was terrified about writing technical copy (“integrated data-based solutions”) and making photographs featuring suited white men shaking hands in airports.

Happily, my paranoia was unfounded. When I realized B2B meant big time businesses advertising to other big time businesses, I felt like I’d discovered the golden goose. Some of the best ads (and other marketing communications) were being done on behalf of such interests. Not only would big ideas be required they were essential. My “creativity” would not be compromised. Frankly, if I were to succeed, it would need to be emphasized. Sure enough, the accounts we pulled in were no less sexy than the blue-chippers at Leo Burnett.

Within a year LBWorks became an advertising agency, filled with specialists in technology and white-collar enterprise.

At my current agency, per Ron’s observation, we’ve adjusted our mission to client need and marketplace gravity. Our offering is plural and getting more so. It’s exciting, a bit nerve wracking, yet essential. With consultants and clients emphasizing specific marketing services during the RFI process, we are perpetually customizing our credentials. I think a lot of agencies are. Or they’d better be.

In the end it’s all about ideas but MGMT obsesses about mission statements and the like. “Who are we?” we are always asking ourselves. What if we are something new and different every year? Why not just own that?

2 Responses to “The ever-changing ad agency. Integration or Evolution?”

  1. Pale Writer said

    Great post and very insightful.

    I’ve found this to be true not just of agencies but of creatives, as well. I got into the business thinking print and tv were all that counted. But the best assignments I’ve had, and the best agencies I’ve worked at, have resulted from a willingness to do more design-related projects like brochures, invites and other things that many other creatives felt were “below” them.

  2. […] Read more: The ever-changing ad agency. Integration or Evolution? […]

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