We don't need 'new' models, we need more brilliant work

Clients aren't empowered to buy bold work and agencies continue to churn out safe work. says Duke's CEO and co-founder

I witnessed the "Going Global" panel at Advertising Week, which saw Charles Fallon state that ‘London was faring poorly when it comes to new agency models’, and Mark Boyd claim that now is "the worst time to launch an advertising agency". As the chief executive of a start-up creative agency, I can tell you, that’s bollocks.

I agree with Ronald Urbach when he says that: "the need clients have for marketing is fundamental", but it is only fundamental because there is a genuine need for outstanding work in a sea of mediocrity.  It’s clear that start-ups haven’t been entering the market at the same pace as they once were but I’d argue that’s not, as Boyd states, because it’s saturated, but because there is a palpable climate of fear and risk-aversion everywhere.

However, this fear goes deeper than starting a new business. This cycle is precipitated by clients who aren’t empowered to buy bold work, while agencies of old continue to sell and churn out safe work. Margins are squeezed, timelines run out and channels multiply; which adds up to a culture of saying yes before you really know what you’re getting.

It’s clear that start-ups haven’t been entering the market at the same pace as they once were but I’d argue that’s not, as Boyd states, because it’s saturated, but because there is a palpable climate of fear and risk-aversion everywhere.  However, this fear goes deeper than starting a new business.

Where are the Tango Slaps, the Guinness Surfers, the Skoda Cakes, the Flat Erics?

When and where this risk-aversion started doesn’t really matter. The problem is that as a result, there’s little to differentiate between agencies, and from a client’s point of view, it means they’re likely to choose based solely on cost or a safe pair of hands.

When the advertising industry becomes a game of The Price Is Right, it’s no wonder the effect can be seen in the talent (or lack of) coming through. There has been a fall in application numbers to colleges like Watford and the School of Communication Arts, because advertising is a less popular career choice for young people. It’s not sexy, well paid or even (more shockingly) creative. And so the cycle continues … downwards.

To add another layer of mediocrity, there are also few intermediaries who are prepared to create insurgency and shake the market up brand-side. This means the old fashioned model is still being relied upon and endorsed.

It’s our duty to help clients break away from the hamster wheel of churning out mediocre work and their crack-like addiction to ‘content’

If ever there was a time to be delivering creative advertising, then surely it’s now. Where are the Tango Slaps, the Guinness Surfers, the Skoda Cakes, the Flat Erics? Wieden & Kennedy is, in our opinion, leading the charge with the new Sainsbury’s work; as is Mother with Moneysupermarket.com's "Skeletor". And good on em too!

It’s our duty to help clients break away from the hamster wheel of churning out mediocre work and their crack-like addiction to ‘content’. My nine-year-old has the Stop Motion Studio app on her iPad, I could make her head of our content division and pack up and go home, or we could all do better, and help clients recognise that magic and genuine craft can reignite their business.

So to add to your point Fallon, we don’t need new models, we need more brilliant work. Who’s up for some insurgency?

Neil Hughston is the chief executive and co-founder of Duke/

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