The Advertising Industry “Mass Exodus” and What it Means for New Business

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There have been a few articles lately bemoaning the state of the advertising industry and specifically how some in the industry have left big agencies to make it on their own by opening an agency themselves.

The most recent is titled “Creative Exodus in Adland: It’s Just Not ‘Fun’ Anymore.” And it’s eye-opening on a few levels. The article asks more questions than it answers in many ways and there’s quite a bit of vitriol in the comments, understandably so. A brief recap from the article, but I encourage you to read the whole thing if you haven’t had a chance to yet.
Since the beginning of the year, a veritable Cannes jury worth of senior creative talent has shrugged off the leashes of big agency networks for their own start-ups or for creative pursuits outside the ad industry.
Longtime agency watchers will say this kind of churn has always been part of agency life, but to dismiss the trend as part of some cycle is ignoring some key questions that agencies need to answer.
For the unhappy creative mind still toiling in a big agency, there are two choices: You can either, in Freudian terms, sublimate that ego or, in Lebronian lingo, you can take your talents elsewhere. These days, there’s a not-insignificant amount of funding chasing innovative agency models
In reading the comments on the article, I thought about the first-hand conversations we’ve had of late in the advertising industry with creative directors in the process of starting their own agencies and what steps we discussed as being paramount from a new business standpoint (working with RSW/US or going it alone). However, the following can, and should be applied to agencies across-the-board, from the standpoint that, competition is as fierce as it’s ever been.

A few of the comments from the Ad Age article on the advertising industry and the agency new business takeaway afterwards:

There’s no large group movement. There’s nothing on a massive scale here.
The massive scale was an exiling, not an exodus. Tens of thousands of people forced into the desert of unemployment.
“It’s just not ‘fun’ any more.”
It hasn’t been fun for several years. Ask some of people that were sent to exile.
For the record, clients aren’t just being “conservative.” We (yes, I’m on the client side after being sent into exile) aren’t willing to pay for the lavish lifestyles of holding company or agency figureheads with whom we’ll never work/interact. It is much easier (and yes, more cost effective) to hire others who were sent into exile, pay them well, treat them well, and then reap the rewards of their creativity each and every day.
A conversation I had this week had a former creative director planning to utilize the aforementioned unemployed talent that exists in his city. Will it resonate? Many of the comments seem to support this smaller, more “nimble” model:

I’ve spent my whole career working at small, entrepreneurial boutiques and I am glad for it. I am not surprised big creative names are ditching the gigantic places for a more nimble and passionate outfit. I wish them all the best, and think it’s good for the industry.

And finally:

A lot of what’s happening in the industry right now comes down to size. Huge agencies and enormous clients mean layers and layers of hurdles and roadblocks. All these layers result in “by committee” thinking. That’s not the case at the smaller shops. We’re dealing directly with decision makers and work much closer with clients. The result is a much more fun and exciting environment for all. When it comes to ideas, small is the new big.

Your takeaway for new business within the advertising industry: if you’re a smaller agency, take advantage of your inherent “nimble” structure and more direct client interaction-embrace that as part of your identity and new business strategy, we’re seeing clients do just that right now.

And if you’re a larger agency, recognize what’s happening under your nose; embrace your talent and re-assemble your new business strategy if necessary. You may not be as nimble as the smaller agencies, but you’ve got the resources. Retain your focus and don’t get bogged down handling new business by committee.
It’s still fun, it’s just a hell of a lot more complicated.

I'm the VP of Sales at RSW/US. We specialize in working with services firms to help drive and close new business-if you need help with that, email me at What I actually do: drive sales efforts to bring ad agencies and services firms on board with RSW, create content around successful new business tactics and help drive RSW/US marketing objectives, including social media channels, blog content, webinars, video and speaking engagements. Dig it.