Gotta come clean with you all: I had no idea advertising agencies were even a thing until I learned about Campaign Magazine around four years ago.
I didn’t know creative agencies existed. And I had zero clue that separate entities were servicing media (which still doesn’t make much sense to me -- it should always be bundled with creative where possible). I never watched Mad Men (still haven’t, and won’t, because I’ve seen its entrails scattered across the agency debris of Madison Avenue and the poisonous culture that era birthed which we’re now working hard to eradicate). I just assumed all ads were done in-house.
Most of your friends outside adland -- we all need more of them, by the way -- probably think the same about that last thing. They’ve never heard of and definitely do not care about any of the agencies you work at. We live in a bubble and the best in the business are those who keep one foot firmly outside of the bubble. How can you orchestrate global culture for the brands you serve if your world is wedged between Dumbo House in Brooklyn and a few industry events?
The bubble was blindingly obvious when I joined adland as Associate Editor at Campaign US. So were the right people. I met most inspirational, motivated, creatively-spirited talent in my first two weeks inside our industry than over the course of my entire career to date. The energy is infectious. The imagination is powerful. And the focus for change is tangible.
I fell in love. Immediately.
It took me a good year of living and breathing marketing before I felt confident enough to declare that the state of advertising has never been better.
Today, the state of advertising has still never been better. No, it’s not where it needs to be. But it has never been better.
Campaign US has banged this drum harder than ever over the past few years as part of its mission to celebrate the positive transformation of adland with editorial pillars cemented in equality and creativity (equality first, because it fuels the latter -- and anyone who still doesn’t get that needs to leave the business yesterday).
The article references six reasons why the state of advertising has never been better. Give them a read. They’re all still relevant today. So much has changed in recent years, but yet the fundamentals have not: equality is non-negotiable; agencies are pushing brands to be braver than ever; creativity continues to be -- and always will be -- the most valuable weapon in our armory; big creativity has the power to cross borders and influence global culture on a scale other industries cannot touch; our BS sensors have been seriously upgraded and consumers can smell inauthenticity like that seven-week-old milk in your fridge and; independents and other new entities are tearing up agency models, leaving stifled shops behind.
That last one though. The allure of scrappy for agency folk has always been sexy -- and it’s grown even sexier in the years since that piece was published.
Gary Vaynerchuk is proving that his ardent, volume-based VaynerMedia model is working. Anselmo Ramos continues to snap up big business with GUT as it leans into "gutsy" creative. We Are Rosie is forever changing the way we do business by challenging the status quo with flexible working. JOAN Creative has launched an in-house studio arm to enchance the full-service model clients crave. Fancy is nailing a focus on marketing to women aged 40. David&Goliath is reinventing the philanthropic marketing world with its non-profit Today, I'm Brave, and work powered by purpose. Bullish is justifying its one part strategic creative agency and one part early-stage consumer investment model. Then there's Wieden + Kennedy, of course -- an indy so revered and proven I do not need to explain why I'm listing it. And it feels like Campaign US runs a story every month about Walrus winning accounts as it thrives with a lean team and a fierce one-two creative-media punch.
All of these are part of advertising’s great reinvention. And the need for reinvention has never been underscored as aggressively as it has in 2020.
Now there’s a new kid on the block: Mischief @ No Fixed Address.
It’s co-founded by Greg Hahn, a creative powerhouse who needs no introduction (assuming you’re all inside the bubble). No Fixed Address (NFA) is an award-winning, Toronto-based agency which birthed a network. It's been serving U.S. clients for some time now, but Mischief is its explosion onto the American scene.
The agency’s client solution and approach is the furthest thing from cookie-cutter. There is no one-size-fits-all model and its compensation infrastructure is wildly varied and entrepreneurial, from equity stake to create-now-and-value-later. A fluid system has allowed founders Serge Rancourt and David Lafond to invest heavily in talent and grow to around 140 people with 40 clients including Little Caesars, ABInBev and Disney.
It appears the allure for future-facing, nimble shops like this isn’t reserved only for agency folk -- yours truly is leaving Campaign US to help build Mischief.
Over the past several years, I've had agencies from every corner of adland tell me how they're the model of the future. Most are not. Most are just flirting with it. Most won't be able to fully embrace a new way of working until red tape and silos are destroyed -- and that won't happen until new leadership is in place. Who wants to wait out that storm? Not the right people. Not the marketers of tomorrow.
The reality is only a handful of shops are getting it right.
I see the glaring holes in our marketing ecosystem like the wear and tear on your favorite jacket. But I don’t want to repair the scuffs, tatters and fade -- I want to be part of sculpting the new garb so titaliating and malleable, punchy and unapologeticly brave, that you can’t help but say "daaaaayum" when you slip it on. Mischief is that jacket and that jacket is part of advertising's metamorphic wardrobe redefining how the industry looks and feels. It's in good company.
Words cannot fully express the gratitude I have for everyone in our industry who has helped make advertising a home for me. Thank you. I’m beyond excited to continue to be part of an inferno of tangible change but in a completely new capacity.
I’ll sign off the way I signed on: Advertising is not dead and it’s not dying. It’s evolving. And equality and creativity is the phoenix on which it rises. There’s no room for anyone who thinks the contrary.