Justin’s ‘Agile versus Strategy‘ post has tapped an excellent debate.
One of the most interesting comments comes from R/GA’s William Charnock, who makes the point that traditional ad agencies got rid of ‘the makers’:
They outsourced production to directors, photographers, digital technology specialists etc and carved off media execution to separate media agencies. With no ability to prototype, experiment or execute in the real world, the only option for them was to focus on ‘conceptual thinking’ or ‘BDUF’.
Some forward thinking agencies seem to be addressing this, if only on a small scale, setting up labs for experimentation (a la Ogilvy, BBH, Media labs etc.); creating partnerships with content creators, VC’s and start-ups (who truly are the leaders in market agility and fast fail learning/prototyping).
As William and other commenters say, it’s the start-ups who are the true leaders in this space – not least in terms of overall value creation. Indeed, you could argue that the ‘start up culture’ of high-growth tech start-ups has become a defining (and disruptive) force in work cultures well beyond tech, marketing and media.
To traditional agencies start-ups must seem superhuman, and super-scary. Look at FourSquare: in just 12 months and with a mere handful of smart, motivated people they’ve created an entirely new media ecosystem and platform, not to mention a service that people actually love. They’re already working with lots of brands, including Starbucks, Pepsi, Zagat, Bravo, Conde Nast and The New York Times. Thousands of awesome campaigns for thousands of clients will run on FourSquare in the coming months and years. Brands will use FourSquare to add real, everyday value to their customer’s lives instead of wasting money pissing them off in expensive bursts. Agencies must look at FourSquare and worry.
Traditional agencies would love to bring some of these uber-makers inside the castle walls – but how’s that going to work? Unless agencies can find some way of giving these start-up punks some skin in the game, what’s in it for them? Why would they? They don’t need agencies, because they’re busy replacing them.
Of course, we’ll see agencies piling into software development, and they’ll certainly look more like tech start-ups – but that’s different to getting the ‘start up culture’ inside. Unless you can address structural issues like ownership, autonomy and putting engineers in at the top this simply won’t work – and those are fairly big asks. Stuart and I were discussing the fact that most industries realised they’d needed CTOs and CIOs in at the top a few years ago – but which ad agency has a CTO sitting at the highest level, on the Board? They may be frightened right now but perhaps not enough – until this happens I’m just not sure you could really say it’s being taken seriously enough.
Meanwhile, FourSquare is launching brilliant stuff on a weekly basis – and there’s still only 16 of them. And there are many, many FourSquare’s out there. If you were starting out today and were bright and ambitious – who would you rather work for?