25 Mar 2010

Freelancing in the plug-and-play economy

In my previous post, we looked at Efficiency vs. Creativity.

Now let's see if we can reconcile the two - and I truly believe we can. But it will require a near-total de-construction of the traditional structure and approach of an Advertising Agency.

But let us be clear about one thing: Whatever form, advertising creation takes, the advertising industry is, and will keep kicking 'derriere' as long as there are things being bought and sold.

There are many points-of-view on the future of the advertising business out there. From digital technology and crowd-sourcing, to brand conversations and location-specific advertising. (And not all of it is pro-social media either.)

I've myself pondered: "What if you don't need an Ad Agency to do Advertising?"

Let's start from where we left off... If creativity / ideation is the least efficient and predictable function in an advertising agency, can an Advertising Agency divest that function? Or can an Ad Agency do without its Creative Department? And vice versa, can Creative people do without an Agency?

Think. Think again. Think out-of-the-box.

In my estimate, an ad agency's thankless, 'bread-and-butter' retainer-fee-justifying work is done for the most part by a bunch of super-committed, super-efficient, unpretentious, and largely undemanding (by the Creative Deparment's yardstick) individuals. They are potential darlings of ROI-hungry shareholders!

The Creative Department are the big guns. The elite (and as you can see, self-indulgent) smash-and-grab squad that's most useful on 'new business pitches' and the occasional 'big-ticket briefs'. They are the one's who orchestrate the spikes on the balance sheet. They are also, in shareholder terms, a huge cost-centre!

The only way to for shareholders to get maximum ROI, is for the agency to be working at optimum efficiency. That is... Maximum, continuous and measurable output (in the form of retainership fees) on minimal, tight-as-can-be input (salaries and overheads). Now, we have a problem.

Sure, we invent stuff that is supposed to make the Creative Department more efficient: Planning processes, Briefing processes, Creative processes. But Creativity being creativity, you can't manufacture it!

...So can an Advertising Agency exist without a Creative department? Probably yes.

With an agency retaining just a core account management and execution team, which literally functions as an extension of the client's brand / marketing department, the advantages are:
- The shareholder gets near-optimal efficiency.
- The client gets a pliable a dedicated resource that quickly responds to their internal agenda. And they may involve any external creative resource (and find better budget-fits) without a conflict-of-interest with agency.
- The agency avoids a huge cost overhead. Also gains the ability to outsource work that needs Creative input, like 'new business pitches' and 'campaigns' to those best suited for the assignment, the media involved, and the budget available.

It's the plug-and-play economy at it's utopian best!

But can Creative people do without an Agency? Probably yes again.

Freelancing is has gained much legitimacy and momentum across the world... especially, in the current churn. Many of the best creative minds have already left large network agencies for the lack of growth and / or adventure.

There are advantages for Creative people as well in this new plug-and-play economy:
- Without hierarchy, talent / capability can command it's true price and respect.
- Talent / skill / passion can developed into specialisation(s).
- Assignments can be chosen based on how well they align to talent / skill / passion.
- And as a bonus, you don't never, ever have to do another internal newsletter again - if you don't want to.

Advertising is hardly alone in the plug-and-play economy...

One look at any industry - from Finance companies with call centres and DSAs (Direct Sales Agents); Automotive giants with their cost-conscious suppliers; Consumer Durable brands with their outsourced components and assembly, Fashion & Designer brands with their third-world sweatshops; or even the independent developers of apps for the iPad or Facebook... It is well past the dawn - it is in fact mid-morning in the plug-and-play economy.

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