There has never been a better time to be independent and entrepreneurial in our industry than right now. The convergence of advertising, entertainment and technology is providing new and exciting opportunities to communicate. Consumer control of media means that aiming to stand out isn’t just a good thing to do but, rather, "table stakes" if brands simply want to be heard.
At the same time, clients are under threat. Traditional, big clients are being taken out by more nimble, modern and relevant brands. Our own masters of the universe – multinational networks – are also being given a run for their money. The reality is that every business model is being challenged – and, within that vacuum, there are opportunities for the brave and entrepreneurial.
Independent agencies are best-placed to change the game because they have freedom from the control, influence or support of others. There is no one-size-fits-all approach — and a good independent is driven to offer a new service or product that no-one else has offered before. There is an intimate relationship between originality and self-direction. And it is increasingly important that we shape opportunities to provide longstanding business opportunities.
When we started The Monkeys in 2006, we felt that the way brands could communicate was changing at warp speed. We also recognised that new skills were required and clients were not prepared to gamble on unproven agency capabilities. We were having difficulty convincing clients to take certain directions because we had no track record in the areas we were pursuing. However, the arena of branded content was opening up — but production companies didn’t have the brand experience and agencies didn’t have the entertainment experience.
So rather than hoping for the right client opportunity, we went out and invested in new skills. We created a TV series, learning from the best in Australian entertainment — and soon we had a comedy drama and a cooking show running on national television. We also established proven skills in a new arena and caught the attention of clients — and provided a point of difference for The Monkeys.
Branded-content projects followed, as did briefs from new clients – and The Monkeys were off. Sure, we made some mistakes. But they were more interesting mistakes.
Another area where agencies are being challenged is in remuneration. Our industry finds it increasingly difficult to charge for ideas and, therefore, relies heavily on a fee-for-service model. Procurement experts have emerged, driving that price down. We have struggled to find new ways to make money, and very few have actually pursued new paths. As John D Rockefeller said: "If you want to succeed, you should strike out on new paths; rather than travel worn paths of accepted success." What agencies have is a talented bunch of creative minds. Why don’t we put this talent towards creating new business opportunities for our clients? The answer right now is that we simply don’t offer this to our clients. We have become craftspeople in the art of communication.
Rather than wait for the opportunity to present itself, we took one that walked in off the street. We decided to create our own FMCG brand, the ice-cream brand Homer Hudson. The brand, previously owned by Unilever but discontinued in 2009, presented a great opportunity to look at a category dominated by two players in Australia. We then did what we do best: we found a positioning and created new product, packaging and communication to take on the market.
The move is designed to open up revenue and commercial opportunities. If we can pull this off, we can partner clients in new ventures. We might be wrong — but while the industry cries about falling margins, little is being done to move upstream and offer clients something different. Imagine the credibility you carry if you have a proven track record in building and owning brands. I’m sure every FMCG client would love to work with an agency that understands the business they operate in from a trade, customer and communication standpoint. They may also offer you more money to do the job.
This is our experience and our point of view. We want to change the industry. This may seem idealistic, but it is our independence that allows experimentation and freedom of expression. We don’t have all the answers but we do have a point of view, and we are taking a long-term view of creating a business that always has relevant and modern skills. It takes courage to travel down new paths but it is the vulnerability that is ultimately powerful and transformative – and allows a more authentic point of view.
So don’t wait for clients to provide business-changing opportunities, go and make provocative ideas happen.
Mark Green is the chief executive and co-founder of The Monkeys