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« Cause for Concern | Springtacular 2007 »

April 9, 2007

Ad Agency Model is Broken, Duh

Posted by Brad Abare | Filed under: Philosophy

It's no secret that the ad agency model is broken. You can pick up any issue or back issue of Advertising Age or Adweek and read about the demise of the business. In that process of discovery you would also learn about emerging boutique agencies that are becoming industry darlings as they attempt to specialize, not generalize like their soon-to-be extinct dinosaur predecessors.

Alas, this model is still broken. At issue is a fundamental conflict of interest that exists between a typical ad agency and their client. When an agency must give away ideas in order to sell services that will keep themselves in business, we have a problem. A perfect example of this is seen in the 2000 movie What Women Want starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.

The movie is set against the backdrop of an ad agency in Chicago where Nick Marshall (Gibson) and Darcy McGuire (Hunt) play out the story. There is a point in the movie when Marshall and McGuire are pitching Nike on a new ad campaign for women. As Nick plays the footage of female athletes in the background, he is adding his own voice over as he communicates the campaign concept and ideas to the three female Nike executives sitting in front of him. The pitch ends with the tag-line, "No games. Just sports."

The Nike execs are thrilled and want to sign and start right away. Nick and Darcy are happy and the agency gets the business.

The point I am making here (not the point of the movie) is that the agency did all of their thinking, creating and ideation up front. They gave away the ideas with the expectation of future business from the client. If the client likes the ideas, the agency is happy and now they get to keep their creative directors, copywriters, art directors, designers and producers on staff. If the client doesn't like the pitch, the agency lost all that time giving away their ideas, and the jobs of the staff are at stake unless they can drum up another opportunity with another potential client and start the race all over again.

The conflict of interest exists when the agency must filter all of their ideas through the machine they must keep feeding. If they have really good ad writers and designers on staff, they're not going to tell you to fly a blimp over the beach or do a phone campaign blitz, even if those are the best things you could do to achieve your measures of success. They can't, because it's not the business they're in.

An agency that specializes in interactive marketing won't tell you to do a print campaign because that's not their strongest suit or who they have on the team. Do you really want an agency advising you on how to invest your big dollars in campaigns that they are staffed to create?

Or would you rather work with an agency who is not staffed to actually implement the work, but who is staffed to advise on what the best thing to do for you is, not for them?

Design agencies, interactive agencies and great copywriters are not going away. They will always be needed because we always have stories to tell. The difference will be in who you want to help direct that story: An agency who has to feed their machine, or an agency who wants to help you succeed, and then help connect the appropriate people who can carry out what it is you need done?

Where does Personality™ fit in this? We serve as an agency of record by collaborating with you on how to realize your mission. We do that through our profile process and in the role of a trusted advisor. We're not going to pitch ideas that only we can implement because we're not in the implementation business.

Need a copywriter? A designer? A printer? A producer? We've worked with a ton, but they don't work for us.

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