Is the agency model too old for the catwalk?

No single solution will ever truly work, but flexibility is required, writes the founder of Chant.

Things change, that's a given. Technology often dictates a shift in behavior from both consumers and businesses alike. Recently, I had a C-level executive at a Fortune 500 company tell me these exact words, "Rodd, the world doesn't need another ad agency." So why do people keep starting ad agencies that for all intents and purposes are no different to the existing pool of agencies?

Most agencies are based on a model that worked reasonably well in the 50s through to the 90s. But, as we know, times have changed. Many are trying to reinvent the wheel or build a better mousetrap, myself included.

Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and whatever else is lurking around the corner in Silicon Valley or Alley allow everyone to live in a "now" world, not a "we'll take three months to get that message out to an audience" world. To be honest, I have worked in agencies where getting something from briefing to finished product within three months is considered a rush job.

I doubt there is in fact "one" solution that would ever truly work, mainly because change is a constant. The model needs to be incredibly flexible. I envisage something that is part agency, part talent management, part production company and part "other." That's a lot of parts, but still less than the multi-layered and process- hindered big agencies out there.

I've been lucky enough to have worked in traditional agencies, digital/social agencies, design and branding firms and production companies. That exposure is the foundation for how I am looking at the business today. Some companies that were previously seen purely as a production resource have successfully re-imagined themselves as new-style creative companies, two that come to mind are Mekanism and B-Reel, but I'm sure there are more.

If agencies are to shift the way they work it will require a rethink in how they're structured. This would also require people with traditional creative titles such as copywriter or art director to add to their repertoire. A one-trick pony will have a hard time surviving in the future in this industry. For me traditional creative teams and department structures seem almost redundant; nearly everyone has a tool in hand that can create content. Many smartphones even have the ability to shoot 4K video.

Now, more than ever, brands need and seek ideas at the speed of now. And creative companies who are tasked with developing ideas for those brands need to be able to deliver. No agency should or could expect to have all the talent in-house, in fact that approach is also redundant, or at least it should be soon. There is an abundance of talented people on this planet who have abandoned the confines of 9 to 5 office life in favor of some creative independence.

Recent stats have shown that, in New York alone, 38 percent of the workforce is freelance. And by 2020, 40 percent of the population on the USA will be freelance. Now let's add to that a global population of 7 billion people and you have access to a whole lot of creative talent.

It's easy to see where things are going, less people sitting in offices, more people sitting wherever they want working for whomever they want.

Digital nomads are de rigueur today.

Agencies and creative companies that don't adapt to this shift in working behavior will find themselves in a precarious position. But thanks to the aforementioned social media channels they can now connect and work with independent people anywhere in the world.

Having run multiple creative departments in my career, I know how hard it is to keep creative staff motivated. The high and lows are many, one minute you’re making a great video for a major brand, next you’re being asked to write a copy line for a banner ad. When a creative person has been working on the same things, day in and day out, while sitting at the same desk, staring at the same wall five days a week, you are bound to end up with creative burnout. Whereas when you bring in some fresh thinking and perspectives via talent that have not been burdened by all that, they will approach each project without any baggage and you are bound to get better creative results. I like to call these people "free range creatives" and there are a lot of good ones out there.

Directors who work for production companies don't sit around in cubicles all day, lucky bastards. And photographers don't all sit at a long communal table in a neon lit open-plan office waiting for something to shoot, again, lucky bastards.

Creativity doesn't happen in offices, it happens out in the real world.

The agency model of the now should not have any walls, nor should it have any borders, we live in a global community after all.

So is this the answer? Who knows? But hey, it's worth a shot, as the current model seems ready for retirement.

—Rodd Chant is an experienced creative director who has worked in Australia, Asia and North America, and is the founder of Chant, a creative company he prefers to call a "creative something."

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free