An old colleague and now friend is in town. Chatting with him and his fiance, a planner, on Rue de Bretagne last night we wove around the world of new agencies and the year ahead. He is an Art Director of the rare breed who has done TV to product development to building his own online shop to making really smart social media siloed concepts. A rare trans-media creative.
He spent some time in an agency at home in UK after return from the freedom of West Coast creativity and like I was amazed at how stiffing and old school much of the agency world is in Europe. It is not that it is bad, not at all, shops are turning out great stuff. They are just having a hard time finding ways to do what we know works to predicable measures, in new ways with disproportionately successful measures, not to mention new things that never existed before. So he is currently working out of a pub in a UK city other than London starting an agency based on what he has done not a well crafted pitch document.
In the past year a lot of folks went out to start their own shop. Some famous, many less so. Sure some are riding on hot air and really just salesmanship, others now realizing how much of their success was a result of a great big agency machinery behind them and others are just quietly doing their thing. But all of them deserve credit for giving it a shot.
The volume of people giving it a shot is also indicative of a need to rethink, really rethink, not just rethink in the same way as everyone else using the same small pool of pundits, advisers and marketing celebs. The brave honorable soldiers giving it a shot are doing the rethink in many cases, not talking, but doing.
If the last decade has one legacy it is unfulfilled promises. TV didn't die but it didn't get much better - then again maybe we never needed it to be better. Social media took a lot of time but few are doing it well. Using a lazy term like 'digital' delivered confusion because it means so many things to so many people. The big dumb agencies provided in some cases not to be so dumb always but certainly big. The EU, Wall Street (except for Goldman Sachs) and even Mr. Hope himself have all in some eyes been big unfilfilled promises. We spend a lot of time talking about what was said was going to happen versus what actually happened. Lots and lots of talking.
What is clear is change is easy to talk about but hard to do. The future is always for the brave, and the brave befall more frequently than others to Darwinian fate. But we desperately need them. We must celebrate and help them.
In our world, a few things we can do may be the following to help them, and help ourselves:
1. Outlaw the terms digital, below the line, above the line, integration and any other term so generic and frequently used its has lost its meaning.
2. Know what you are really good at, and be honest about what you are not so good at - then find someone who is good at it.
3. Collaboration, as always, is necessary as more and more people are needed to do what needs to be done.
4. Greatness still comes from one or two talented minds, still, identify them, respect them, don't always coddle them but nurture them.
5. Embrace complexity, which means working with and in parallel to other agencies. No longer rely on the crutch of the client as intermediary between agencies - grow up, play nice and make something greater together than could have been done on your own.
6. More does not mean better: know the line when teams get so big you spend more time managing yourselves than solving a problem.
7. Be passionate before you are precious. Everyone is replaceable and the games of old have little tolerance.
8. If you can't actually do what you say, or know how to get someone else who can, or are not given access to them, leave.
Probably some other things too, but that's a start. Oh, and always replace the printer paper when it is running low and never be too proud to get someone a coffee, we are all going to need it this year.