If you work in advertising, you’ve no doubt heard the familiar lament: “We need a new model.”
As to where to find this elusive new model, this is usually followed by “We need to look beyond Madison Avenue.”
And, yeah, we do. But to where?
The initial reflex of most is to point to Silicon Valley. After all, that’s where most of the cool, innovative ideas are coming from right now.
I’d actually suggest looking a little south of the Valley to a model that’s actually pretty old but can be perfectly applied to our industry: Hollywood.
One of the big mistakes that the advertising industry made was to build agencies as permanent structures with the same team and resources designed to serve every client on every project.
Think about how a typical agency engagement works.
A client comes to an agency with a job and we see what resources we have under the agency roof and we throw those at the project. Maybe we don’t really have the right teams or skill-sets within the agency but we’ll be damned if we’re gonna walk away from that potential revenue so we force-fit the challenge into our offering. After all, the agency’s already on the hook for the overhead, so we have to keep those people busy.
Now think about how movies get made.
Teams are built from scratch for each project and then torn down and rebuilt for the next one – all based on what’s needed. A studio has a movie they want to produce so they go out and hire the best people to get it done. They recruit a screenwriter, a director, they cast the actors, they bring in the right special effects people, etc. And they hire them for that job only. When the movie’s done, they all shake hands and go their separate ways. On to the next job. They don’t become part of the permanent studio overhead, waiting to be foisted on to the next project – for which they may not be the right fit.
Modern, responsive agencies need to be flexible enough to be built around client challenges. And that means agencies that are expandable and collapse-able based on need.
We have a client right now whose project requires building a tool in Flash. Most of our clients don’t need this. So rather than have an in-house Flash designers with built-in overhead (passed on to clients who don’t need his services), we brought in a world-class Flash person just for this project. If other clients need an SEO expert or an experiential marketing expert, we’ll bring them in as well.
The talk in the industry over the past couple of weeks has been about how the co-presidents of venerable agency JWT recently left to start up a new agency with a small, core team that brings in specialists on an as-needed basis.
They’re talented people and they’ll no doubt be successful but when I read the reports over how “innovative” and “groundbreaking” this new model was, my first reaction was “We’ve been doing that for a while now.” And Hollywood’s been doing it for decades.