What makes a great agency.


Between 17 years of full-time and freelance work, I’ve seen the inner workings of more agencies than I can remember – and they’ve all been different. It’s fascinating to see how each agency approaches their work and job duties. And from each of them, I’ve tried to take mental notes of what worked, what didn’t and what led to the best creative.

• At the very top of every single job description in the agency – from Receptionist and IT to Account and Media – the #1 job responsibility should read “To produce great creative.” It’s amazing how many places I’ve been that think great creative is only the responsibility of the Creative Department.

• Creative Directors – our job is to make it as easy as possible for other people to produce great creative. It is not to force other people to do our ideas or to snake all the good assignments for ourselves. I’ve worked with at least a half dozen CDs who would seemingly disagree with me.

• At a minimum, every account person should be 51% on the agency side and 49% on the client side. The scales should never tilt the other way. Way too often they do.

• Anything that gets in the way of great work needs to go – individuals, clients, overly rigid process or time sheets.

• If you’re putting together a pitch reel and you can’t find enough great creative from the past 2 years to fill it, you need to stop pitching for a bit and reevaluate things.

• Reward people who are good. Produce an awesome campaign? Show the work at the next company meeting and call out everyone on that team – starting with the proofreader and ending with the creative team. Did the studio work a bunch of weekends in a row getting work out the door? You’d be surprised how far a $100 gift card as a thank you will go. Hell, you’d be surprised how far doughnuts or a catered lunch will go. Acknowledge that people bust their ass for you and guess what? They’ll bust their ass for you even more.

• The great agencies squash the Account vs. Creative crap. The bad agencies promote it. Internal antagonism does nothing for great creative. Can you have fights and disagreements? Of course. But constant bitching about another department absolutely kills an agency. Raise concrete issues to management. Management, deal with it and fix the problems. We’re all on the same team.

• Coming up with a great idea is not linear. It is not Account writes brief -> media buys placement -> creative comes up with concept -> producer makes ad. Too many agency processes are linear. Too many times I’ve seen the creative team come up with a great idea only to have the media folks say “We’ll, we didn’t buy page take-overs, we bought standard banners. Too late.”

But really, the biggest difference I’ve seen between great agencies and all the others?

• The great ones just get shit done. They find a way to come up with an awesome concept. They find a way to sell the client on the idea. They find a way to get it produced. Bad agencies make excuses. “There’s not enough time. There’s not enough money. We can’t do that. We’ve never done that before. That’s not what the client will buy.” If you’ve ever read the history of how Subservient Chicken got made, you’ll realize that thing should have died 10,000 times along the way. But people just got. shit. done.


2 Responses to “What makes a great agency.”

  1. This is going to be the first ‘list’ on my board.

  2. 2 G saint Mahaka

    Brilliant, just brilliant.

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