The agency. Good old creative agency. Representing the great designers, the iconic leaders, the magnificent offices, the unforgettable pitches. The buzz, the hard work, the glitter. The Mad Men, the accounts, the money and the fun. A dealership that sells visions, feelings and dreams — branding it, answering the brief: increase market share, overthrow the competitor, appeal to consumers of a certain age, profile, category. To make and sell, win and celebrate, create and conquer. All thanks to processes, compliance, excellence, efficiency, units, roles: who, where, what. The funny thing is — this model was born in the 18th century and it goes by the name bureaucracy. What defines bureaucracy? Chain of command (which means hierarchy — even if you declare your structure is flat), division of work; fixed, repetitive and regulated tasks, the expertise required for the specific field, benefits based on how well you can do exactly what you are told.
Zebra’s, B-corps and social entrepreneurs lead the new brand army — they lead and work differently. The goal? Create the shared value. That value can come with profit and must come with real societal, cultural and environmental benefits. If they mean business, they are not in it for quick wins, ‘winning’ is defined differently. Often, there is no product to sell, there are things to create, teach, improve. Because of the mess that fast companies and Silicon start-ups left — social entrepreneurship has its hands full, yet — they do not have equal possibilities.
With smaller budgets, bigger value loads and even greater growth challenges the social enterprises rarely have the chance to get their brand pimped by the creative agency. Let’s assume money is not an object: would their impact budgets go to an organization that is compatible with what they represent? Would they get what they need in the creative dealership? Would the newly found creative partner share their values and goals?
Times are changing, companies are changing, brands are changing — can the creative agency?
Social and impact entrepreneurship can help redesign the way we think about the agency. How to turn it into action? How to design our way out? Here are the ten commandments to bridge today’s creative industry and impact-driven businesses.
1. The business is done selectively
The new world agency is selective towards the client and supplier portfolio. If you mean that positive change — it should be visible in the portfolio of brands that you serve. If you preach it while serving oil lords and fast companies — brace yourself (a.k.a. WPP & Edelman being called out by the Clean Creatives).
2. Value-based networks
That value-based selection creates, grows and expands into the network that is 100% value-based. Value-based networks of impact-driven creative thinkers and doers are the alternative to agency-based services. Yes, it is happening.
3. Designing mentalities
The new world agency takes responsibility for designing and branding mentalities, rather than products and services. The new world agency offers communication that is value-based and unique. That value comes from its network, that uniqueness comes from the interaction of independent, intentional, knowledge-reach and value-aligned network parts. It is the synergy, not a production line.
4. Knowledge-based services
Einstein said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. If you keep doing things with the same people, in the same way, within the same processes- you are not learning- you are executing. The first results in the knowledge-reach brand, the other results in a brand coming from the most amazing brand dealership, where a good output equals fast creativity: ‘asap’, efficient and cheap. Knowledge work is different to working with units, departments, competencies and skills. Knowledge-based services come from variety and exception rather than predictability and routine .
5. Context-based talent
Work organized around competencies and skills reproduces the pyramid-mentality. Skilled and talented at the top, the middlemen and — at the bottom — the busy bees. Problem with it? It does not say anything about one’s capacity to do things — it creates the ‘low skilled’, ‘middle-men’ and ‘top-of-the-world’ mentality. The future belongs to creatives that can manage and management that can create. Talent is context — not competence-based.
When work comes from the contextual presence rather than from competencies and skills — how are you good at it? If you are good, if you are present, if you are relevant — you prove that by showing you can deliver meaningful and relevant network connections and partnerships. The result of such collective, cooperative interaction is knowledge and relationship-based, intentional, free from directions-from-high-and-above. That makes it different to agency-based creativity.
7. Owning it
If it’s a coop — it ain’t a pyramid. In the co-op you are not a junior or a senior skill, you are not a middleman or top management. You can’t say: it is not my job, I’m not doing it. I’ll let others worry about it. Monkey management is not a compliment in the new world agency. Everyone takes responsibility. It doesn’t make it easier, faster, safer and cheaper — yet: you get to work with people who are owning it. You can safely assume that result of that work is better … creatively.
8. Ethical royalties
Speaking of ‘owning it’. Two years of anti-compete for 6 months of work? Agency, rightfully and contractually so — secures its territory and takes the credit for any work created within its walls. No thank you, we’d rather answer directly to our clients. Talent? It is a property of a human being and not ‘the agency’: if you do not credit it — you’re not paying your ethical royalties.
9. Fair play, fair pay
Have you seen “The Big Short”? Chance is — this is how it looks when you ‘invest’ in agency based creative services. Mark-up pyramids, charging for big offices, grand titles or high self-esteem. That isn’t a thing in the new world agency. In the new world agency, every member gets a say and every member gets paid equally based on the contribution made.
10. Vibe must be right
Going into business with someone is like entering a relationship. If the vibe ain’t right, you don’t go for it. If you can do business with people who believe in the same thing and mean something to you — it’s a win-win. That will translate to a better brand. Believe you me.
New or old world: people are the agency. That is the greatest thing. Although most of us, including myself, spent most of our professional life inside the creative machine, inside the agency, we should not forget:
We were there before there was a creative agency. Our talent, our capacity, our knowledge, our ability to build the creative connections, our synergy — they are ours to give. They are ours to use, share, create and build. In the end, it is now up to every single one of us to decide how we are going to go about that and which representation we want — the one of the old or the new world.
About the author: I’m a brand strategist and the founder of A.D. new world — brand design consultancy for social enterprises, B-corps, Zebra start-ups and impact brands. I am co-creating a freelance based network of conscious brands makers, brand owners and brand artists. Through my work, I want to contribute not only to building the purposeful brand army — but also to building a better creative industry. Happy to connect via LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram.