Speaking Up, part 1

31 07 2007

I read a few great articles on working at a small agency yesterday.The first two are by Bart Cleveland, and are titled “A Mistake is Not Necessarily a Failure” and “Why Do You Want to Work at a Small Agency”. The third is by Eric Webber, and is titled, “Big Agencies Could Learn a Thing or Two From Us”.I should add that these are part of this great series call “Small Agency Diary” from Advertising Age.These articles by Mr. Cleveland and Mr. Webber outlined most of the things I have hoped were true about a small agency, but never knew for sure. For instance, Cleveland talks about how a media planner might even be welcomed into a meeting full of creatives, who are hard at work developing “The Big Idea” for their latest client. If this happened in a larger agency, according to Mr. Webber anyway, “eyes would be rolling so fast they’d look like old-school slot machines.” And I think that is too bad.I was in a situation once where the creatives had shut themselves off completely from everyone else. They formulated their ideas in secret meetings far away from the prying eyes of someone, say, from the account planning team.But one step into those meetings, and it was clear the creatives had actually spent TOO much time together. Ideas were being shot down before they were even said, because the individual knew what the leader would say, or what their creative peers would say. And this completely stifles creative thought!The unfortunate truth is, even the best creatives have their road blocks, their bad days, their days when they would rather just play video games and cannot be bothered with concepts. And that is OK. Everyone has those days. But that is when it’s best to cross-train. When it’s best to walk into a different team’s meeting and say, “I would really like to help.” And, as Mr. Webber says, sometimes you are welcomed in a smaller agency.Now I’m sure sometimes you are not, and that is fair too. While it’s nice to be free and move around different teams, we also need some specialization to organize how tasks get done.But imagine, as Cleveland writes, that the client suddenly has a change in their business environment. All of a sudden, your campaign (however cool to look at) no longer works, or no longer possesses an edge, no longer gives consumers a “reason to buy”. How fast can your agency move? What if you, an assistant with the media planning team, have an idea? Would you be welcomed into a creative meeting?To me, this is one of the act-or-die situations for an agency. If you move on this opportunity, churning out an evolving campaign to take advantage on the new marketplace environment for them, you could win BIG. Your client could take over new business and have you to thank for it.But if the creative team struggles, as can happen, all of a sudden you are crushed. Your other teams are frozen, WAITING on the creative. But if you walk into that meeting and present your idea, confident, you may just save the business. And that seems like the magic of a small agency.

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