Meet the team quietly (and successfully) transforming adland

Jack Skeels (L) and the AgencyAgile team
Jack Skeels (L) and the AgencyAgile team

AgencyAgile has helped restructure more than 100 agency models as shops continue to grapple with fast-paced industry change.

Trouble brewed at the household of one senior art director recently.

Serious questions were raised when he got home at a reasonable hour two nights in a row. But he hadn’t been fired, as his partner feared. Instead, the agency he works for had been restructured and streamlined by Jack Skeels, AKA The Fixer.

His crack team is quietly swooping into agencies around the world and making them over under adland’s radar.

"Shops ignore the fact that there is massive uncertainty, ignorance and complexity to agency work and try to plow ahead anyway with poor communication," said Skeels, who helped run Sapient LA for a number of years before starting AgencyAgile in 2012.

He believes it’s the answer to one of the most endemic problems in the agency world: how to quiet the craziness and increase profitability.

For a fee (which can go as high as $3,000 a head), Skeels promises to resculpt the agency model by shifting internal culture to restore productivity. He credits his company with helping more than 100 shops evolve.

His team trains in a workshop setting inside the company with numerous classes over the course of between three to six months, depending on size and state of the agency. In fact, Skeels said he’s not afraid to charge twice as much for a more traditional agency because "they’re going to need so much hand-holding around the idea of how they see things differently."

Speaking of the training AgencyAgile offers, he explained: "Since the trainings represent a change to culture, organization, roles and process, it is important to make sure everyone knows the new model -- especially since the old ways of working are so ingrained.

"We teach them how to have a much more quiet days. And it comes from doing noisey days well. We teach them how to channel that noise into narrow windows of time so other times don’t get so chaotic."

He told of the transformation agencies have seen in employees' happiness and moral.

You can’t put a price on better quality of life. But you can put a price on ROI. A survey of AgencyAgile clients in 2016 found that around half made their money back in less than six months, and more than two thirds said it saw strong ROI within the first year.

The payback comes in several forms, according to Skeels. The most popular being lower-cost delivery: teams tend to get it right the first time much more often, meaning less unpaid rework. This implies that quality also goes up. The numbers can be quite profound, as rework rates typically run between 25 percent and 40 percent of gross revenues. Skeels hears anecdotally that these costs drop by 80 percent or so with AgencyAgile training.

The CEO says both clients and team members get a lot happier. Obviously, retaining either one better has huge rewards, as finding new clients or staff is a very costly and distracting endeavor.

"Everything that goes wrong from inside an agency is a managerial problem," stressed Skeels when probed about the most common problem he’s tasked with fixing.

The number one issue his team routinely faces is how to orchestrate better handovers from C-suiters to ground staff who deliver on what was promised to the client.

"A lot of the knowledge of what should be or shouldn’t be stays with the senior people," he continued. "The problem is not that we can’t reach the dream that’s pitched -- it is doable. The problem is it’s not handed off well and the result is so horribly short of that dream."

New York City-based Firstborn is just one agency that’s benefited from communication coaching.

CEO Dan LaCivita first hired Skeelss and his team after meeting via a friend around four years ago. He had no burning issues to fixed at the agency, but was intrigued by what Skeelss was offering.  

"I go into these things fairly skeptical, especially when things in your agency are going well," LaCivita told Campaign US.

"The value to me is outside perspective. But that’s only valuable if you then give me to tools to fix the things that can be made better -- and Jack does both of those things."

The CEO took one of AgencyAgile’s more minimal offerings and had the team in to run workshops over several days.

"It was the reality that people learn differently," said LaCivita of what was taken away from the course. "The assumptions that go into how we communicate with one another and the messages being universal.

"It shatters everything you know about how you communicate. You’re like, ‘is this the reason things get lost in the cracks?’. The simple premise of people learn and communicate differently was the first paradigm shift Jack revealed. It changes how you run meetings. It changes how you communicate with clients. It changes everything."

LaCivita encourages agencies to hire Skeels when things are good to get the most value. He warned that it’s easy to slip back into bad habits and said shops must either self-regulate the newfound optimization or bring AgencyAgile back for a checkup.

Structural longevity is something Skeels echoes, adding that high staff turnover usually means agencies are at risk of being back to square one within a couple of years of the training.

AgencyAgile’s greatest success stories are with small to mid-sized agencies. This is partly because the team started small, said Skeels, adding: "But also because true transformation requires a level of leadership engagement and commitment that most large agencies don’t have the skill or discipline to implement.  

"I posit that this is also the reason why these same big shops increasingly look like roadkill in the battle with management and systems consultancies."

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