Stuck in the ’50s: the broken model of traditional agencies

Jon Williams laments the loss of joy in the marketing industry

The road ahead is lit by the bridges you have burned in the past.

Burn baby burn. Let’s torch it all. This whole god damn system. The entire way the industry works. Or doesn’t. Tear it all down. It’s old, it’s antiquated, it doesn’t work, it burns people out, breaks spirits and drowns souls. It generates increasingly worse and worse work for less and less money.  

Advertising is a multi-billion dollar market that still runs on a broken business model created in the ’50s. It is lethargic, ego-driven, and political, clients are marginalized, consumers are ignored, and the focus on selling hours has made it slow and added unnecessary layers to pack the margin. It’s just not fit for purpose anymore.

It’s a system like no other industry anywhere in the world. A system where it’s actually to the agency’s benefit to underperform and take longer to do the job, enabling them to charge more hours. It rewards inefficiency and incompetence. To compound that, despite the big agency networks having not made a profit for years, they still manage to charge clients too much. The temptation to load bodies (and hours) onto a job is too much to resist. The ‘cost-control community’ did not evolve without a reason, now did it?

Everything in the current set-up, from client services to finance and even strategy all puts pressure on ideation time. Which is crazy, because it’s the output of the creatives that clients buy, and that in turn, persuades consumers to buy your products right?

And this is leading to an utter loss of joy in the industry. And therefore, the product. And when the joy goes, so does the love. And when the love goes, so does the respect.  

Something’s gotta change. Burn it down and start again. Begin again. Start with a clean sheet of paper like we did at the start. And its not just us saying this. We’ve talked to over 600 disenchanted souls from; Marketing, Procurement, Creative,  Strategy & Production. And listened. All of them said the same thing.

They want to work in a better way. No one is happy with how it is right now. So we re-designed the business  around everyone’s needs, letting a backbone of technology take the strain (and the headcount) and putting the focus back on ideas. Platform thinking makes marketing spend work harder and more effectively. At the heart of it, this industry needs to sell ideas and not hours (how long does it take to have a great idea anyway… anyone?). This might seem fairly innocuous at first, but dig a little deeper and it can become the beginning of a fundamental industry-wide shift in power, culture, motivation and value.  In reality killing the current system doesn’t do us any favours as a business. Everything that is wrong with it is our biggest new business driver. But we’re good with that because at the end of the day, as a B Corp, a clause in our Articles of Association reminds us that we value people before profit. And our passion is to ensure the talent in the industry is healthy and happy and the clients are getting the best possible work. And this should be all our passions.

That’s our truth. Tell us yours.

Have you run out of patience with the whole way things happen? Or don’t? Do you want a different perspective? A new way of harnessing some of the best talent in the world in a way that just feels fresh? If you’re looking for better work with a smaller price tag. Come and talk to us.

Featured image: Mike Von / Unsplash

Jon Williams

Jon Williams is a 20+ year veteran of the ad industry working at some of the biggest global agencies. He was European CCO of Grey for almost 10 years. He has set up a creative business called The Liberty Guild which has a new way of working that is all based on the idea that creatives should be paid for their ideas, not their time and have really forward-thinking views on talent.During his lengthy career Jon developed the first genuinely interactive TV ad ever broadcast, the first mobile enabled posters and the iPint the world’s first native branded application for the iPhone. His personal work has seen him stack up awards, winning over 300 international awards, including Cannes, D&AD and Effies. While at Grey he deployed a 2000 strong pan-EMEA co-creation platform that allowed the best teams to be put forward for the right jobs regardless of the geographical challenges, out of this initiative the Liberty Guild was born.

All articles