/ September 2, 2013
Over the past few months it seems like I keep having the same conversation over and over again with friends in dozens of agencies around London, it usually starts off like this:
“Who do you think is the best agency is at the moment? Is anyone doing good work?”
And ends with them explaining why they are thinking of moving on. The reasons why are always the same:
“I want to work on an actual product people want to use”
“I want to build my own thing”
“I want to explore more new technology and ideas not gimmicks”
“We never do any interesting work”
“We only care about hitting targets”
“I don’t feel like I’m learning”
“We never push back and tell the client their ideas are shit”
The exodus of talent we’ve been hearing so much about at executive/director level is now filtering down to smart young digital/mobile creatives, planners and account managers.
And can you blame them?
The people who generate all the ideas and work are evolving and realising that they themselves could be reaping the rewards rather than the agency.
Agencies on the other hand are happy to keep trying to live in a world which is ceasing to exist. Clinging onto the same ideas, tools, and ways of working with CEOs who are either oblivious to the current mindset or too frightened to instigate change.
It’s the perfect storm of increasing entrepreneurialism, decreasing loyalty and an industry reveling in mediocrity.
Startups are offering equal or better salaries than agencies with more perks and chances to get equity, brands are taking design and development in-house after realising they’ve been spending a fuck-load of money on sub-standard work, pure play product and design studios are quickly emerging with young and talented leaders, and of course technology is lowering the barrier to starting your own business, in both time and cost with the freelance market also booming.
Many agencies are offering whatever trend makes them seem relevant to existing and potential clients (who sadly lap this shit up). Whether that’s UX (which never goes beyond wireframes), User Centred Design, MVP, incubators or the current shiny thing – innovation labs.
While many people will shout “Well agencies aren’t about innovation or hacker-like creativity, it’s just about billable hours”, the sad truth is that whether they are or not, this is what agencies sell, not only to clients but to staff, and that’s the problem.
Promises are made in job descriptions and interviews that aren’t kept.
You never get an agency intro that says “We pride ourselves on creating branded apps that no one wants and churning out banners that no one clicks on, we say yes to all our clients daft suggestions because we know it’s the easiest way to make money. Oh and you’re gonna leave here with nothing worth putting in your portfolio, fancy joining us?”
The talent is there, as is the desire, agencies can try to stop the bleeding and try create places where talented people want to use their skills to build great things for clients and users, or they’ll take their passion and curiosity somewhere else and be left with the deadwood.
So here’s a small but potent list, a view from the ground for the agency execs and CEOs. My own thoughts and those of my peoples, collected from designers and creatives (and a few PMs/devs/planners too) in agencies around London.
1) You won’t stop taking on shit work
We understand, you’re an agency, you need to keep the lights on and pay people. We get that. Everyone gets that.
But at the same time we expect you to have ambitions just like we do.
In the beginning it was cool to take the low-hanging fruit of animated GIF mobile banners and cookie-cutter augmented reality apps, just like we thought making nightclub flyers at uni was cool when we first got into design, but after a while that shit has to stop and you need to start aiming higher. Read More