What Barton F. Graf's demise means for the state of adland

Work Barton F Graf executed for Supercell
Work Barton F Graf executed for Supercell

The indie shop will shut its doors by the end of the year.

Independent creative agency Barton F. Graf will shut down by the end of the year, following a tumultuous time of client and talent changes, according to an earlier report in Ad Age

The shop, led by creative icon Gerry Graf, is known for some buzzworthy - and quirky - spots, like Supercell’s "Clash of Clans" and Tom Cat’s "Dead Mouse Theater."

Campaign US reached out to agency veterans and industry experts to hear what they think Barton F. Graf’s closure means for the state of adland today, most whom are just sad to see the former hotshop closing its doors. 

Jeff Goodby, co-chairman and partner, Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Barton F Graf fought the good fight every day under the same flag all committed creative agencies like ours must rally. We wish everyone there well, and know that Gerry’s unique verve and soul will soon be back with us in some new form. 

Lisa Colantuono, president, AAR Partners

Although it’s disheartening to see a talented creative agency in the industry close its doors, it is another cautionary tale that agencies must consistently be agile to the ever-changing marketer shifts while still delivering purpose-driven and expertly crafted communications.   

Client budgets are tightening, spending shifts from AOR to project work are increasing, payment terms are lengthening and turn-around times are shortening. Agencies (big or small) must constantly keep an eye on their team structure, talent and growth models while keeping flexible to marketer’s trends. The "perfect storm" can be dangerous unless the agency is prepared for the shift in the wind… and depending upon new business isn’t always the best solution.

Greg Paull, principal, R3 Worldwide

Today’s independent agency is getting crushed from multiple places -- from the multinationals, the consultancies and even clients direct. In a holding company model, underperforming agencies can be protected within the portfolio. But the standalone agency has no such luxury. 

Jack Skeels, CEO and founder, AgencyAgile

I think that this reflects the increasing peril of a small agency working with a large brand. As we identified in our work with the 4A’s, The Future of Agencies, larger brands will increasingly look to enterprise-savvy partners (like the consultancies) for the longer-term AOR-like relationships. 

They are formidable competitors even for a large agency, but with the marketing budget battles moving up the ladder into the C-Suite, the small shops will struggle to be part of that conversation, and also see much more competitive (and measurable) project-based assignments.

Nancy Hill, founder, Media Sherpas

Without knowing the particular details, it is hard to say exactly what happened here. I do know that Gerry Graf is an amazingly talented creative who did everything he knew how to do, including great work, to build an agency. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to have been enough to be sustainable.  

An "agency," as we knew one to be, can’t grow in the same ways we relied on in the past. Clients are under tremendous financial pressures that are requiring them to work with new marketing models. (The norm for the agencies I work with now is 50 percent project work.)

We have to become more adept at creating our own models that allow us to do what we do best; use our creativity to help drive business. That means being confident enough to be flexible to these new client models and yet remaining committed to being paid fairly (and, on time).

Mike Duda, managing partner, Bullish 

In a world where we all want to win, no one should be rejoicing at losing a fun and unique agency like Barton F. Graf. The incredible talent and unapologetically unique campaigns will keep the flame alive in the minds of many… and it’s a reminder that what happened to them can happen to almost any agency.

Claire Telling, co-CEO, Grace Blue 

I loved BFG’s work and was sad to see them not make it.  The reality is that clients have been shifting to project-based assignments and multiple-agency rosters for many years now.  You used to wake up on Jan 1 and comfortably predict your revenue for the rest of the year—but those days are long gone.  

The agencies who are thriving are the ones who are set up for more agile ways of working -- which includes doing more projects vs AOR assignments.  It’s why we have seen such growth coming out of experiential agencies lately -- they are built for the future in that the majority of their work is project-based and they know how to scale up and down quickly.

Dany Lennon, Founder/CEO, The Creative Register Inc

Gerry Graf is an icon. He has waged wars over decades and come out on top every time. He is a brilliant creative and as he says, he has had a 9 year MBA course. His brilliance of course is also recognition of his own evolution let alone that of Advertising as an Industry. I admire what he is doing and see him as avidly and enthusiastically brave and inspirational. Never ever give up. And this is hardly that!

Daniel Jefferies of Jefferies Consulting

Barton F Graf is a very sad story and shows the risk of being dependent on project work.  Agencies need to look at the way they are set up and restructure if needs be to cope with a move from AOR to project work. 

Realistically, an agency needs a good balance of both. Big loss for the industry because they were/are a very creative shop. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more agencies having this challenge over the coming year or two -- especially if the economy wobbles.

Mark Pytlik, CEO, Stink Studios

Gerry's a golden god, so if he can't make the AOR model work, then I'm not sure if anyone can. I think the new normal for small agencies these days is that they need to be much more diversified in terms of their client mix, they need to be optimized for shorter term engagements, they need to be nimble, and they need to be specifically set up to deliver for in-house.

It doesn't hurt if they're able to offer some sort of executional value, too. It really is about being able to do more with less, and being fluid enough that you can gap fill as required.

Yadira Harrison, co-founder, Verb

It’s surprising, but not shocking, to hear this news given today’s agency climate, especially with the great creative work coming out of Barton. We are constantly working through how best to future-proof our shop — starting with rethinking the amount, if any, AOR work to take on so we don’t become beholden to any one client. As an indie shop, the retainer vs project ratio is a major factor on how we evaluate staffing, billing and even MSA (master services agreement) terms. 

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