How I would run an advertising agency today to prepare for tomorrow

We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift. In Sweden and around the world advertising agencies are fighting over clients. As I’m meeting brands both in- and outside Sweden I’m often approached by major brand owners asking me which agency I would recommend. Most of them complain over the fact that the big agencies of today still haven’t got what digital is all about while the digital agencies haven’t got what branding and communication truly is about.
Behind the scenes great brands are switching agencies like I used to switch dipers on my kids a couple of years ago. This is not a good thing. Great communication is built upon good relations between agency and client and a deep understanding of what the brand you’re supposed to communicate stands for. So how do you go from being an advertising agency that keeps on loosing clients (or keep on not winning them) to an advertising agency the client cannot live without?

Here’s how I would run an advertising agency today.

We would solve problems for real
First and foremost my focus would be to create an agency that did not necessarily focus on advertising. If I built an agency today I’d create a place where brands came to solve real problems. In the end the solution could be anything from a product, graphical design, a process, an education, packaging, new services, advertising, digital tools, events and social media activities. We would NOT define ourselves by a specific area instead we would define ourselves as problem solvers. There are agencies that would argue that this is what they do today. But their organisation and solutions does not reflect this.
Built around the three components of future branding
The agency would be built around the three components I blogged about two days ago. Innovation, Authenthicity and Design.
authent-designThe components of a future brand
The answer to most problems spells ‘product’ or ‘service’. That’s how you build the brands of tomorrow.
Prototype this, build that!
Everything would be built around prototyping. Early mockups, rapid prototyping, video studio, photo studio. I’d even create a prototyping workshop, and I don’t mean a workshop in modern terms, I mean an oldie-goldie where we had access to tools, machines, textiles and of course 3D printers too.
workshopA nice workshop shot by Mtneer_man
Technology today enables smaller agencies to have all these things in-house as long as it’s on a prototyping basis.
Storytellers are key
Writers would always be an essential part of the team. Not necessarily copywriters. I would go more for storytellers. I’d need people who truly could write and tell stories. Hell, I’d need people who can write movies, theaters and other things that touches your heart.
I’d hire engineers, architects and industrial designers
My belief is that brands of the future wont have a problem advertising their shit. The big problem will be to innovate their brand through product and services. Future branding will be all about solving complex problems for clients. I think IDEO has led the way in some sense.
Personally I’m privilidged to be working with prototyping today. But If I’d run a larger business I’d focus even more on prototyping. This is where you need new competences that can’t be found in any advertising agency today. PIE is probably the closest thing you’ll find today.
Design at the core of everything we do
Consumers expect nothing but excellence and design is a key component. This is why I would hire world class designers who truly loved to design. I’d go for nitty gritty design. Pixel perfect people. Those of us who can spend hours on details. These are the people I’d hire. Designers who wants to become art directors…those I’d avoid.
Charge for ideas not production
I would build an agency focused on solving problems and creating communication platforms. Not run an agency that earned it’s money on production. Having a huge in-house team that produces what you come up with sooner or later leads to ideas that are made to make money…for you, not your client. It’s super easy today to find fantastic producers within any area of expertise. We would focus on direction, ideas, storytelling and project management.
We wouldn’t work with customer surveys. We’d only work with ethnographic research and anthropological analysis.
Steve Jobs once said “If you wan’t to surprise people, don’t ask them what they want”. He of course ment that great brands understand people, they understand behaviours, how people want to do things, what they lack in life and what would make them happy. My agency wouldn’t ask consumers what they want. We would spy on people, we’d always aim to understand consumers on a deeper level, watch their behavior and their doings in everyday life.
Our office would be based where we could afford to create quality of life
The agency I’d run would probably have offices outside the city centre. I’d focus on quality of life. We would rather spend less money on rent and more money on transfer busses and boats.
spain-hotelI wouldn’t want our office to be farther away from the ocean than this. Took this picture from the hotel room in Alicante when I held a workshop with Volvo Ocean Race.
Parking wouldn’t be a problem. People could go for runs in the woods over lunch. We’d build space for mind. Placing your agency downtown makes it hard to you to create quality of life for your employees. You probably would have a problem recruiting some people due to this, but other would die to work for you. Those are the ones you want.
I’d look to hire people who are passionate about life
If I’d build a new agency I’d focus on finding people who knows how to enjoy life. Nature, food, sports, art, travel and other things that makes life worth living. Our focus as an agency would be to enable those people to live their lifes. People who are only interested in their career does not appeal.
We’d offer at least 15 weeks of vacation.
Summers should be spent surfing. Winters should be spent skiing or snowboarding. The fall is the perfect time for hiking. Spring is for quality time. Whatever you fancy. I don’t see the point of an agency having to have you working 48 weeks a year just to earn more money.
tracks-stantonThere are places like these waiting to be explored. I don’t want to waste everyday of my life at work. Neither should my employees. This picture was taken at St Anton 2013.
The focus of my agency would be to let people have time off. I’d rather focus on creating a culture that attracted great people so that great brands was attracted to us. Once you’ve got that covered I think long vacations won’t be a problem.
A six months plan and a 10 year vision.
Amazon, you know the e-commerce site, it’s said they’re running their business with a six month plan based on a 10 year strategy. Then they revise that plan over and over again. It sounds like a great idea to me. I have no clue what my business might look like one year from now so why bother. As with anything you do it’s always good to have a vision or a goal. But from an execution perspective looking six month ahead sounds great!
No meetings
One of my bibles is called Rework. It’s written by 37 signals. The company behind the great project management service Basecamp. One of the chapters is called ‘Meetings are toxic’. They are! Of course you might have to have a meeting every now and then. But boy am I tired of meetings where you’re only spending valuable time deciding on what to do at the coming meeting. Going to work should be about positive energy, not negative energy. Meetings drain people of energy.
A playground but a playground that delivers
Last but not least. Going to work should be all about fun but it’s not all fun. Some creative shops think creativity is all about fun and play. Personally I love the challenges problems solving presents.
brahegatan26My personal office in Stockholm today. That Lego table was built by hand in 8 weeks while we had creative meetings.
To work with creativity but always have the brand and the strategy in the back of your head is exiting. This is what separates good agencies from great. A great agency would never deliver a fun idea that wasn’t on brand or on strategy. A client that thinks you’ve spent his or her time is a lost client. Focus on having fun at work but once you’ve nailed the idea that solves the problem it’s all hard work from there!