Sunday, October 20, 2013

Let's Play 'Fantasy Agency'!

Everyone keeps remarking that the current agency model is broken. But, they never propose a new one.

So here goes.

First let's look at the current model. It goes something like this:

(Click to embiggen)

For simplicity, I've left many people out, including Production, Reception, Security, I.T., U.X., Executive Assistance, Catering, and Technologists. Doesn't mean they're not important. They are. They're just not departments I have a new structure for.

And I'm not meaning to call out any particular type of agency here. I'm meaning to refer to 'traditional' agencies, digital agencies, integrated agencies, above-the-line, below-the-line, through-the-line, never-heard-of-the-line... everybody.

Also, though I've put Traffic at the bottom, I don't mean to say they're the least important. I would love to show them permeating the whole system - like the oil in an engine - but I just don't know how to draw that.

Now, here are three alternative models: 

Alt. Model 1: 'The BBH'

This is the model that was put into place at BBH in London, about three years ago.

The thinking behind it was that clients come to agencies for great creative, and great strategy. They don't come for 'great account handling'. (N.B. their words not mine). Therefore Account Handling becomes more of a support function, with the role of Traffic subsumed within it, which saves a little money.

The crucial 'Team Director' role needs an extremely talented, super-organised person, but they could potentially come from a Traffic background, and may not need to be as well-paid as the top Suits previously were.

However, this is not a cheaper model overall, since as you can see, the savings are ploughed into hiring extra Planners. The goal of this model isn't to cut costs, but to increase quality (clients are theoretically receiving more of the expertise they actually want from an agency) and to increase efficiency (there are fewer moving parts).

I hope it's not a trade secret. If it is, apologies.

Alt. Model 2: 'The Hybrid'

Account Handlers and Planners both make an extremely valuable contribution to the advertising process, no doubt about it.

But with margins crumbling across the industry, perhaps it's time to look at merging the two departments.

In many cases, this won't be a problem at all. There are many 'strategic Suits' out there, and tons of Planners who have first-class account handling skills.

Of course, it's too much to expect that every Account Handler will be as adept at planning as a Planner is, and every Planner as adept at suiting as a Suit. So, some decrease in the agency's quality and efficicency is inevitable. 

Oh, and in case anyone thinks I'm being biased towards Creatives - by merging Planning and Account Handling while leaving Creative untouched - I'm not. Take another look. I've eliminated the separate Art Director and Copywriter roles, thus making Creatives hybrids too. 

Yeah I know, it sucks. But this is a considerably lower-cost model. When times are tough, you can't eat foie gras and go to the theatre every week.

Alt. Model 3: 'The Ad Guy'

This is a radically lower-cost model.

It does away entirely with the three traditionally separate roles of Planner, Creative, and Account Handler, and instead merges them all into one - the 'Ad Guy'.

Obviously, very few individuals are capable of performing all three roles to the same standard that today's specialists can. So some drop-off in quality may be expected. Though arguably this may be offset by an increase in efficiency, since there are many fewer moving parts to this model.

I'm envisaging that each Ad Guy would have a young apprentice, who is gradually trained up to become an Ad Guy (or Ad Girl) themselves.

Now, before you write off this scheme as complete lunacy, consider this: it is in fact the model in most common use by other providers of professional services today, such as Management Consultants, Lawyers, Bankers, Architects, Accountants, and (perhaps most pertinently to us), PR professionals.

Also it's so low-cost, we could all go back to driving Porsches again. 



Chizzy said...

One thing I'd like to share is my observations of what's happened to the typical account handler since the rise in popularity around 'the project manager'. I'm sure there's examples of where it works well. But, in my experience, it's just another person doing what account managers used to do. And not only is it inefficient, it's also made account handlers less skilled and knowledgeable. The holistic account manager of old would grow in the their career through the exposure to the client and all departments of the agency. The split roles are now making for more 'bag carrier' suits with no ability or confidence to think, weak negotiation skills, and less insight into the the in and outs of the journey to ideas. Are we ok with a model that includes 'meeting organizer' and 'contact report writer' working into their boss who is going to become 'the client fee negotiator/satisfaction officer'. I have had the pleasure of working with 'super suits' but I fear that they will become extinct as no robust and holistic account handlers are not coming through the system. My suggestion: no account service - everyone is in the business of servicing the account. We need creative, planning and producers - smart, resourceful, practical, positive 'can-do' motivators who's role it is to provide the most effective environment for creativity to thrive.

JB said...

My agency has more people in the account service department than in the creative department. In fact - that has probably been true to every agency I've worked at. I liken it to having a plumbing business with 3 receptionists and 1 plumber.

From this creatives point of view something is definitely busted with the way agencies are staffed.

And don't even get me started on the role of digital strategist...

Luke said...

Of the three models put forward it seems to me that the only really radical one is the third - 'Ad Guy' - model. Because it's the only one that does away with the notion of a "creative department".

I suspect that what happens in this case, though, is that the 'Ad Guys' in question get too close to the marketers and their litany of politics and problems, and will be unable to come up with truly objective and insightful solutions. So you'll end up having to bring that in, in the same way that agencies already do with other creative skills like directors and photographers.

The result? A lot more freelance copywriters, art directors, designers, etc. operating as guns for hire, much like the Hollywood model for scriptwriters and the like working for studios on projects.

Whether this is good or bad I cannot say, but it's certainly different, and it's likely that the very best (now freelance) creatives would do very well under this model. Maybe even Porsche well.

New Order said...

As a client, I do like promise of the Ad Guy model.

For one, it does away with the retainer remuneration whereby big agencies front load an org chart with titles of people and name cards with huge hourly rates and whose value I seldom see.

Often, the titles stay while the faces change shortly after the ink on the contract is dry.

For the Ad Guy model to deliver, we need to see more mature and experienced multi disciplinary ad pros who:
1- Have a proven track record of 360 business thinking
2-Know their way around media plans, spreadsheets as well as research.
3-Come up with their own creative ideas and not just wait for the creative kids to do their magic.

In short, the Ad Guy has to earn the respect of clients, media and creative folks.

Given the age-ist, one hit wonder thinking and scammy path many agencies have already clocked serious miles on, the ideal Ad Guy is as mythical as a talking unicorn.

Still, it's nice to dream about having one in the stables.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of being lambasted, I still question the role of planners. Perhaps, it's a nod to your 'Adguy' model, but I truly think good creatives can do the role of a good planner.
Look at all the revered people of the industry (Ogilvy, Berbach, Burnett) -they were creatives who came up with strategic ideas, rather than simply creative executions on the back of another department's thinking. Or to put it in the terms of those old-timers mentioned, these days it's not the creative team doing the factory tour and looking for insights; it's the planner.
So, I reckon Creative and Planning can merge, and you still need good suits who can negotiate and project manage.

Anikin said...

Can we rename the Ad Guy model to the Jedi model.

Same same.

Better name.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe one structure fits all. Agencies these days need to be nimble. Clients require varied skill sets obviously. A fast paced retail chain as opposed to a slow burning rebrand require quite unique experience. In which case I think, as an employee, if you're prepared to truly get under the skin of a business (aka your client), genuinely care about what their trying to achieve, understand their challenges, their ambitions and actively look for opportunities to connect them with their markets then you're adding value already. But whether your a suit, a producer or a copywriter doesn't really matter. I mean don't get me wrong you need to rely on the divide in roles to bring specific expertise to the table but all in all its the responsibility of the whole team working together to create truly excellent work. They all need to care, they all need to truly understand the brief, they all need to understand good design vs bad, or whether a job can be executed within the time / budget available. Its a holistic approach and if you can't think bigger picture you're probably not suitable for agency life these days in my opinion. I guess then there lies the importance of leadership and a strong senior management structure. They need to know the clients inside out, figure out their needs, recruit accordingly and set that one team to deliver 'above-the-cut' business solutions. Keep the teams small, expect a lot, recruit when pressures are too high to fill the gap / reduce burn out but don't over complicate the work with layer upon layer of process, role definement and unnecessary contact reports. Figure out what the business problem is and provide the right resources to solve it. Structure your agency by client type / business problem and surround that client with those people who will truly add value. The old school structure is dead. No one client is the same so no one team should operate that way.

Anonymous said...

How on earth can the 'Ad Guy' model be the only 'really radical one'. Even with the sop of 'or Ad Girl' it portrays a deeply outdated model of a bunch of Ad Guys selling their rational bloke thinking or their pub-laugh humour to a consumer majority of emotionally intelligent women, whoops, I mean 'girls'. Only by flipping that model on its head 'boy', will it deserve the title of 'radical'.

Anonymous said...

Model 2: 'The hybrid', is not a new model at all. In fact, it's a very old model, dating back to the era of Rosser Reeves, before creatives worked in teams and account service were so intimately involved with a client's business that they were also planners before planning was invented. Bring back the in-house media dept and bingo- it's back to the future.

Anonymous said...

Is the third option what Mother was originally based on? Is it still that way? Did it work? I don't know a whole lot about the agency but I remember the structure in the beginning was considered 'radical' in its day.

Scamp said...

Oh, all I meant was that the 'Ad Guy/Girl' model is the most radical of the three that I put up. I'm sure there are other possible ones that are more radical. Can you elaborate a bit on yours? (And sorry if I caused offence with my terminology. I just thought 'Girl' was a better parallel to 'Guy' than 'Woman' would be.)

RVassinen said...

I always thought that the main promise of Mother was that the Strategist also handled the client servicing?

I had a stab of optimal team structure while back, the core actually was in taking planners out (being planner myself maybe that was a moment of self-destruction). Planners tend to almost always lean more toward CS or creative in either case:

With all honesty, the third option is pretty much what is needed right now. Agencies should be comprised mostly of unicorns who have good connections to specialists.

Scamp said...

Your structure sounds brilliant but maybe a little expensive!?

RVassinen said...

In some ways yes, but the idea is also to find new sources of revenues and take the media expertise back agencies as well.The idea is to take away the unnecessary project management-planning-client service layer and have more doers on board. In terms of specialist, the model would require that they would have their own specialist projects as well.