When Big Agencies Think Small

A Visit From JWT's Ty Montague Brings a Refreshing Perspective

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Bart Cleveland Bart Cleveland
Our local ad club just hosted Ty Montague, chief creative officer and co-president of JWT North America. Ty is a local boy who made good, so it was especially enjoyable for an Albuquerque audience to hear him relate his experiences. Ty spoke about his efforts to bring JWT to the head of the class. He's humble about the tangible progress that the work he shared demonstrated. It was a refreshing surprise to most of us. Ty shared how the change is being brought about: JWT is thinking like a small agency.

Ty explained that his past experience was with small agencies and that's the way he approached transforming JWT. For example, he's doing more with less. Ty's examples of work were fresh approaches on traditionally dull brand categories -- the kind that normally make advertising people cringe. It is obvious Ty has brought a focus to the work versus the process, a problem that plagues agencies of all sizes, particularly monolithic ones.

Throughout Ty's talk, I couldn't help but relate his efforts to what my small agency is striving to do each day. It is a daily struggle to not give up on doing great work. The temptation to compare ourselves to ourselves is the enemy of good work. Small budgets and challenging categories are no excuse for staid thinking.

The proof of an agency's greatness is only found on a global scale. Granted, my little agency may never gain the consistent spotlight of the behemoth, but its work can be as relevant to the industry. If we do our job, our work should occasionally get the spotlight. If it doesn't, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Ty contends that agencies, both big and small, are facing a similar dilemma today. If we don't change our view, we could, as those luxury liners of the gilded age did, sink without a ripple. He speculated that if the luxury liners had faced that they were in the people-moving business rather than the shipping business, there could be Cunard Airline flying today. That example applies to ad agencies. Ad agencies aren't just ad makers, we are story tellers. How we tell stories must change if the way people listen to stories change.

We small agencies are not that different from big agencies when it comes to changing with the times. We both must acclimate to the present world rather than remain in our comfort zone. We both must invest in new ways to solve the old problem. Most importantly, both large and small agencies must not underestimate the importance of change. Our industry is considerably different than just a decade ago. Those agencies that succeed will be ahead of the curve. That means they are not reacting to the present, but anticipating the future. There are plenty of small agencies that are leading the industry by example. And there is room for more.
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