Since that fateful day agencies started sprouting up along Madison Avenue, they’ve been modeled after clients. They've been built for process management and stakeholder management. Good business has been the center, even if creativity is the overcoat. But the business of advertising has changed and agencies can't be successful by mirroring how clients work and operate anymore.
Clients want work faster and cheaper and better. To deliver, agencies need to become more nimble, flexible and cost-effective. Which, like most things, is easier said then done.
During Creative Week, Google Managing Director Torrence Boone brought together leaders from three of Google’s agency partners. AKQA/My CCO Rei Inamoto, BBH CEO Greg Anderson and Big Spaceship CCO Mike Lebowitz. Everyone weighed in on their own definitions of agility.
There's no formula for being more agile, so understandably each agency has its own unique process. Based on the Google work each agency has produced (What Do You Love? by Big Spaceship, Chrome spots by BBH, AdWords Thanks You and Google Sandbox by AKQA), they all know what they’re doing.
So… how the hell do they do it?
Rei Inamoto pointed to eliminating the studio department as one way that AKQA has reduced logistics, leaving final design responsibilities to creatives. Removing the studio layer means that creatives are more invested from start to finish – they execute their ideas instead of handing off to specialists.
Operate like a newsroom.
Agencies need to get out of the meeting business and get into the making business. There’s too much overhead, too much process, and too many barriers getting in the way of an agency’s #1 goal: producing work. Greg Anderson talked about getting his creative team to operate like a living organism that produces content.
Replace perfection with experimentation.
These days, it’s more important to get the basics of a product or campaign to market. Don’t worry about making it perfect – get the bare essence of your product into people’s hands. Launch it, get market feedback, revise accordingly, repeat. This is what successful start-ups like Path, Instagram, and Foursquare have been doing. And they’re all doing pretty OK.
Switch the agency mentality.
Agencies like BBH built their reputation on creating masterpieces and crafting their work to perfection. This attitude needs to go. Everyone at an agency needs to get on board and understand that it’s more important to create work faster.
Hire doers, not thinkers.
Greg Anderson said that BBH has moved away from hiring idea teams – teams that think but can’t execute. Teams that lack the craft to build the idea they come up with are just getting in the way. Michael Lebowitz added that being clever and having good taste is no longer a job.
Cast for talent.
Greg Anderson called BBH the land of misfit toys. They look for people with the right mindset, regardless of department or title. With the right people in place, an agency can cast for projects, not staff for them. Interpersonal relationships matter; good working relationships create additional efficiencies.
Deconstruct the process.
Being agile isn’t about quick fixes. It’s about finding a new path to the end goal of creativity. Michael Lebowitz gives his teams a framework instead of a process. This allows each team to bubble up their own unique process that works within the overall framework. His teams almost operate as mini-agencies. Unique processes lead to more unique work and allow each team to focus on their strengths instead of worrying about adhering to an inflexible system.
Integrate every department.
The different stages of each project shouldn’t feel like a baton pass. The brief can’t spend six weeks with strategy before being handed off to the creative department, who suddenly only have two weeks to come up with an idea, who then hand off to tech, who have one week to execute it. At AKQA, Rei Inamoto says the goal is to combine strategy, storytelling and software to build emotional and useful connections with people. This means that technology, creative and strategy work together at every stage of a project. When each team is a stakeholder from the beginning, each team member is more invested.
Work for a company that works differently.
Maybe you're not in a position to change the agency model on your own. But you can support it and put yourself in a better position by joining an agile agency. One that doesn’t just understand the importance of agility but understands how to implement it.
While there's no formula to agility, an agency can make a plan. One that starts at the top and doesn't stop until the work goes out the door. In this agile age, one thing is for certain: the inflexible will be left behind. And when they are, it's best to not be working there.