digital ≠ innovative
A condensed version of an excellent Sunday read of ‘Digiday Confessions’ of an anonymous top executive’s frustration felt in trying to change a huge agency infrastructure and why the task is impossible. Find the full article by Brian Morrissey here.
Why do big agencies hire chief innovation officers/chief digital officers?
It’s tempting to say that big agencies are so desperate that they will literally do anything to try to look modern. So they hire “innovation” people to do just that even though I don’t think there is a one single example of an innovation person or department doing well at a big agency.
Why is it that digital people who have been extremely successful at pureplay, smaller digital shops seem to struggle in driving change at big agencies?
Clients who engage a digital agency want a digital product. They have a budget, a deadline and a need. Clients at traditional shops are being sold something, often quite hard, that they have not asked for. So a person with good digital skills should be able to produce something pretty good with a willing client. the cycle is head of innovation person gets the agency stoked up for a piece of work, it launches (having cost the agency a fortune), people talk about it, but it does nothing for the client and is terrible for the bottom line of the agency.
Why do agencies struggle with innovation so much?
All agencies get the clients they deserve. That will never change. Most big ad agencies have big clients that have a scale need rather than a creative need. The majority of middle American clients do not want innovation. And if by some miracle they do, they have a handful of alternative agencies that are better placed to do digital or innovation. They have smaller shops that will do a better job for less money.
Why do clients often not trust their general agencies in digital?
Clients have been burnt too many times by the big agencies that every year or so will hire a new bunch of digital people to try and go win some more digital business. The big agencies do this because their normal revenue is shrinking. So they are on the defensive. But there is nothing worse than an agency being on the defense.
So why would anyone take a job that seems doomed from the start?
All of these people are very smart. Many have run their own businesses, won multiple awards and made interesting things. So why would they ignore the cycle? Why would anyone take any job? The answers are different person by person. Sometimes it’s money. Probably most of these people are taking home around half a million. Sometimes it’s security – or at least the perceived notion of security. Sometimes it’s a change of scenery; people want to live in New York or LA and so take big jobs in big agencies to do that.
Big agencies seem to often fall back on the playbook of paying a hotshot a huge amount and thinking it will fix a lot of things. Does that have a lower success rate in digital than traditional creative?
I think that goes back to what I was saying about inflated salaries. You have to pay someone a lot to get them to go somewhere that in their hearts they know sucks, but they do it for a paycheck or a move to another city.
Is the current vogue of “making things” just a bunch of B.S.?
No, I think everyone is being judged on what they make.
Software companies put out a release and say to people: “We know it’s not perfect, tell us the bugs and we’ll fix it.” No client is prepared to do that.
What’s the one thing agencies should do to modernize but won’t?
They can’t win. It’s just not possible.If they want to modernize, then they need new clients. But new clients won’t pay what their existing clients are paying. The global networks are remaining in business because the emerging markets are making them money. These smaller offices have grown in the last five years because they started from scratch and have been able to operate on a small budget and, through necessity, have become good at making things other than TV spots.
If you were to start an agency from scratch, what would it look like?
You have to work out why you are doing what you do. If you want to make money, then there are two ways. Go to a big agency and just wait it out. Play by the rules, don’t try to change too much, but make the appearance that you are changing. Don’t fight for any real change or interesting work but enough not to get fired.
Or start a small digital/innovation-focused agency and build that quickly into a network and then sell it to Maurice Levy or Martin Sorrell for a ridiculous amount of money.
“Few things that are shared in this anonymous Brian Morrisey interview have quite such honesty and frustration leaping out of the screen at you as this does”, it prompted a post by Neil Perkin about top-down, bottom-up change.