There was a panel at Advertising Week in New York of independent agency leaders who were all asked: Is now a good time to open an advertising agency? (I’m sure you have thoughts on the question.)
Spoiler alert-the answer was a resounding yes from the panel and I think the recap on The Drum is worth your time to take in.
New business got a nod briefly in the piece, and one paragraph, in particular, hit home for me:
What is an agency now, anyway?
“The title should still be advertising agency,” said Harris. “We started as a production company. We were a digital production company, then we were a creative factory. You can buzzword lingo it to death. Then six years ago, we said, ‘Alright, we’re just going to be an agency.’ I think when you try too hard to not call yourself an agency, you’re sort of lying about what you are and you’re coming up with something to sell something to clients that isn’t really true.”
I’m in complete agreement here.
We encounter the agency analysis paralysis all the time when it comes to the “what are we” question. A couple of reasons for it:
1) What we do is incredibly unique, “agency” doesn’t fit
Maybe, but in the end, you’re still an agency. And actually, there is most assuredly another agency out there doing what you’re doing-probably quite a few of them.
2) But we’re so much more than an agency and from a new business perspective, we need to stand out
Very true, you do need to stand out, but you also need to avoid the 15th team meeting, involving 5-10 people, where you all travel the endless loop of agonizing over what you are. Again, you’re an agency, now move on and get to the real work of differentiating: the work you do and the services you offer.
3) Prospects/Marketers have a hard time “getting us”, so calling ourselves something other than an agency helps ameliorate that problem.
That is a problem, but it’s your problem, and no one else’s. If prospects don’t get you, you’ve got positioning work to do. You’re still an agency.
So I’m giving you some tough love here, but I see it as a positive thing-embrace who you are, an agency, with all the uniqueness you have to offer. Avoid the “buzzwording to death” mentioned in the quote and focus on the ways you can set yourself apart from the competition.
I’ll leave you on another positive note from the panel, a trend that I would agree, does present opportunity:
“I think the trend was that clients wanted to have 12 partners. And I think the trend is going back to one neck to choke,” said Harris. “I think clients want fewer people to work with, that they can partner with and not try to manage 12 or 15 different people coming at their brand from different angles. There’s a lot of opportunity for independent agencies to get a seat at the table with that brand and then expand what you’re offering.”