The future of the agencies

Matt Creamer asks leading speakers at this week's event about compensation, rise of small shops

Published on .

Carl Johnson

founding partner, Anomaly Communications

Andrew Robertson

president-CEO, BBDO Worldwide

Just how relevant are all the questions about the relevance of the global ad agency network?

Carl Johnson

Not very. That's not the real issue. It's the structure inside any particular office that's wrong-the siloed mentality where different disciplines have separate profit-and-loss statements and different cultures and are in reality competing for their share of the client's budget. And the guys that lead those disciplines have personal bonuses based on their unit's performance. How can they be open-minded? How can they be media-neutral? "The answer's advertising, now what's the question?" still drives too many companies.

Andrew Robertson

The relevance depends on who's asking the question. The critical issue is: How do I maximize my chances of creating work that's going to engage consumers and change their behavior? It depends on the brand on whether that needs to be global or not. The amount of local insight you need will vary, the amount of work you'll need will vary and, therefore, the amount of input you need from a global network will vary.

Agencies have been complaining about compensation models for years. It's been on the 4A's management conference agenda for two years. Have you seen any progress? Do you expect to?

Carl Johnson

I don't care that much about the progress in general. We have our policy, which does not include selling "time" in any way, shape or form. Ever. It's a commoditizing force that we refuse to take part in. If it costs us an account then so be it. So far it hasn't been a problem. The pressure on us is then one of constantly proving we're worth more. That's a good thing for us and our clients. We're not waiting for the industry. We're just happy that our business model has gained good traction.

Andrew Robertson

It's hard to track changes if you're only looking at a one- or two-year time frame. If you look at snapshots that are five or 10 years apart there are probably some dramatic changes and I think there will be more. You want to find compensation systems that work for specific clients and specific agencies. There should be more experiments and experiences that come from them that everyone can draw on. I think it's extremely unlikely we'll ever get to the point where agencies themselves can all agree on a new compensation model, let alone the clients all agreeing. It's too granular for that.

What, if anything, have you learned from all the chatter about the rise of small agencies?

Carl Johnson

That clients are desperate for new thinking and have legitimized completely the reality that ideas are more valuable than theoretical "resources."

Andrew Robertson

New agencies are good for the industry. It's part of a regenerative force. The worry is when there aren't agencies starting. It implies stagnation in the pool that isn't healthy. It's a good thing. Just as it doesn't matter whether you're big, it doesn't matter whether you're small. What matters is that you do good work.

If you could add one capability or change one thing about your agency, what would it be?

Carl Johnson

An office in New Delhi.

Andrew Robertson

I'd just put new carpets in the New York office.

What's your single biggest business challenge?

Carl Johnson

Staying true to the vision as we cope with rapid growth, avoiding the pitfalls of indiscriminate growth, hiring the wrong people, spreading ourselves too thin.

Andrew Robertson

Creating work that engages consumers for whom it is ever easier to do something else. That's the challenge of our business. The needs of our clients are for that compelling work.
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