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This is advertising's age of the collective

“Agencies need a new business model that puts the client at the center, elevates new services, and blends creative entrepreneurialism with new executional prowess.”

Hard to argue with the Forrester report on that one, and it’s certainly in everyone’s interest to nail that model. Creativity has been sacrificed in the fight for survival in the last 10 years. Yet it’s the one and only thing that truly makes us worth paying for in the first place, as well as the thing that truly differentiates one agency from another.

Everyone seems to have become obsessed solely with the process. How we do it, not what we do. In recent high-profile alliances and reorganisations I haven’t heard anyone talk about the actual work, or how they are going to create a brilliant atmosphere to create world-changing work that would be a genuine benefit to clients. They only spoke about efficiencies. That’s like opening a restaurant and selling it on having a clean kitchen. I want to be sold a culinary vision. I don’t want to know about your kitchen; I just want to know that what comes out of it is going to make me weep with joy.

I know that money is tight, but it’s the quality of the work that is remembered long after the saving is forgotten. We have to put the creative agenda back at the heart of the evolution of our industry. We have to create new models that enable us to excite, inspire and delight our clients and the public. Of course, they must be efficient, but in the service of creativity.

Of course, I don’t believe that there will only be one successful model. I’m sure a number will prosper, as there are now so many possibilities and permutations to successful creative output. However, I do believe that they will all share a belief in the power and primacy of creativity and innovation.

Furthermore, it’s possible that the Forrester report has overlooked a model that is pretty much what they are describing and already exists. I would argue that they should have said ‘a new business model that puts the client and creativity at the center…’  In any case, the model in question delivers on that too.

The model I’m referring to is the collective – independent individuals or businesses that co-exist for the mutual benefit of their clients and each other. The principle of the collective is not a new one, but it does seem to be gaining a lot of traction right now. Possibly it’s because the previous orthodoxy was just about bearable enough for everyone to carry on as they were, but not anymore. Now, everyone is desperate for a better, smarter, fairer way of working. From the most senior CMO to the most junior creative.

In this environment, collectives offer two very obvious benefits to clients.

Take the world being broadly split into two halves: there are the network agencies who have vast standing armies to cover every permutation of communications under one roof, and there are independent agencies who are entrepreneurial and focused on the output, but limited in the variety of skills they can offer a modern client.

If you accept the norm that CMOs now aggressively manage costs, then budgets are routinely cut, fees routinely challenged, and account reviews are used to drive down marketing costs which are rising from the growth of touch-points – the price of media, content, data, technologies, and agency fees. This in turn puts pressure on agencies to trim costs, which results in them discounting labour costs, juniorising roles, restricting the scope of work, or managing the margin through fees. All these moves challenge client trust, let budget negotiations influence the quality of the services delivered, and screws up any chance the work had of being good.

Then collectives can afford to counter one offer with a ‘have what you need, use when you need it and only pay for what you eat model’ as they, in theory, could have the same breadth of skill set as the networks. As each of those skills operate as independently, they aren’t waiting around to be fed centrally. This means that there is no need to restrict the scope of work or the quality of the services delivered.

Collectives can trump the second offer by creating a central relationship that harnesses all the necessary skill sets to deliver on a client objective, that the clients in question would otherwise have to juggle themselves.

In both cases this puts the client at the center and enables the elevation of new services, blends creative entrepreneurialism with executional prowess, and creates a level of flexibility that is impossible to achieve any other way. Most importantly of all, it puts creativity at the heart of the offer right next to the client.

That’s just my take on it, but it’s why I’ve chosen to join a collective.

Just remember, next time you go to a restaurant to ask yourself why you chose it. If it really was for the spotless preparation surfaces, then you deserve the ordinary meal you are about to eat.

Mick Mahoney is creative partner at Harbour London.

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