I’ve worked in quite a few different agencies.
Each has been very different, starting with a creative agency getting to grips having to do more than traditional ads, right at the start of the original ‘What do about the internet?” question, when agencies began to think being able to design and build websites.
Blogs were a long way off, let alone anything that looked like social media.
This contrasts sharply with my experience these days in media agencies.
They’re absolutely on top of their game dealing with the continuous upheaval and change their industry faces.
Communications strategy is no longer owned by the creative (or digital) agency and, to some degree, nor is core brand strategy. How can it when a huge proportion is what gets planned, across paid and earned I hasten to add, doesn’t actually need much stuff created for the client by an external agency?
(Can I just say I bloody hate the term ‘brand planning’ or ‘brand strategy’. Yes, I’ve seen the same numbers as you, that show the payback from great campaigns that build and refresh memory structures etc.
But this is merely a constant need over time to reach as many buyers as possible with stuff that is consistent with, and develops, core associations in the mind.
Rarely is the immediate PROBLEM the brand. The problem is nearly always about removing specific reasons not to buy. Defining the issue, then going about the job of solving it.
So many modern campaigns include content created in partnership - with the people that own the media, or folks at an even sharper end of creativity – film makers, writers, technology outfits and whatever else – ‘strategy’ no longer means what you fill the ads with.
Now, as a strategy type in a media agency, you’d expect me to say that.
But the reason I jumped ship from the creative outfit a worked with wasn’t just down to the creative director with the ego dwarfing his skills, or head of new business that thought he was a planner, not even the general complacency of the place.
It was simply that I was getting concerned at the amount of ‘ad tweaking’ briefs I was working on.
After getting used to, in many cases, developing digital stuff around the work other creative agencies were doing, it was a little too much to find in latter years, I was mostly being given some core thinking from the media folks.
And lots of it was pretty good too.
In fact, it seemed that much of the innovations and drive to solve business problems rather than just ‘marketing’ or even ‘creative’ problems was coming from the media folks.
So here I am. Probably quite well qualified to comment on what’s different between creative/digital/media agencies and what is the same.
5 things that are the same
The other agencies are charlatans. They don’t work as hard, they get paid more, they’re not held to the same high standards as you are. It’s so easy on the other side, you’ve often thought of jumping ship for an easier life, to make a bigger impact and get paid more.
Clients just don’t get how hard you work, how you’re always juggling, how their briefs are never clear enough. They always brief you at the last minute and expect a response now. But when it comes to invoices, they pay as late as possible and query everything.
Suppliers to agency folk, researchers, media owners, production companies, tech companies, printers etc think agency folk don’t get how hard they work, how they’re always juggling, how their briefs are never clear enough. They always brief you at the last minute and expect a response now.
Many agency folk jump ship and work on the client side, only to get a nasty shock at the stuff they have to deal with, things well outside their experience or skills. Like dealing with a supermarket buyer if you’re in FMCG. Like dealing with sales team. Like being actually responsible for sales. Like working in a normal office without a groovy coffee machine. Like having to spend 90% of your time having to deal with stuff that is nothing to do with ‘campaigns’ or ‘communications’/ They miss the good old days.
They wish they were paid more, they hate the new world of procurement and know for certain the other agencies get paid more than they do.
5 Things that are different
Creative agencies secretly wish it was 1995 again, they could just make ads and bamboozle clients. Media agencies are torn between the simplicity of the old days where you could just negotiate the right amount of TVR’s – vs the brilliance of the new world where they can be lead agency all of a sudden. Digital agencies wish it was 2003 again when no one understood what they did, including themselves, but they could charge the earth for it. PR agencies don’t care when it is, as long as no one asks them to report ROI in the detail everyone else does.
Creative and digital agencies rarely have lunch breaks. Media agencies nearly always have lunch breaks and will not answer the phone to anyone between 1 and 2 pm. PR agencies are out to lunch all day.
Creative agencies spend ages on two IPA Awards year to prove the stuff they do works. Media agencies report on everything they do, reach is actually a serious measure. Digital agencies can prove everything they do, clicks are a serious metric. PR agencies have got to grips with the new world of accountability and do far more than equivalent media value and share insightful stuff like ‘likes’.
Media agencies have ‘invention’ or ‘content’ departments to disguise the fact they’re doing more creative and want to do even more. Creative and digital agencies have ‘creative departments’ (so little imagination) and planners that innocently trot out media recommendations in the guise of ‘brand behaviour. PR agencies do PR.
Creative agencies make their money charging a lot of time for a make-believe process. Media agencies make their money on commissions and charging time for a make believe process. Digital agencies charge for what they can get the client to understand. PR agencies are lovely.