To stay independent or not: It's a question every independent shop faces. The debate has shifted back and forth as our industry has evolved. So far, the consistent answer at our agency has been to remain independent.
Don't get me wrong -- many great independent agencies have continued to do good work once they've become part of a holding company. But inevitably, over time, their brand distinction can fade away. Goals can begin to shift, and that can affect agency culture. They stop treating clients as people, or consumers as people, and even their own people as people.
Great work is as much about the freedom to create the right conditions for success as it is about having the right talent to deliver it. That's what the great independents are all about. Here are a few of the reasons I believe independent agencies are well-positioned to create the right conditions for success.
Your voice stays yours
To me, the true strength of independence is based around one thing: a distinct brand. The raison d'être that you were born for, fight for, cultivate and evolve every day. It fuels growth by attracting brands and talent that share in your beliefs and sensibilities. It's what makes you indispensible to some clients, and completely irrelevant to others.
What's great about independent agencies is that they're invented from the ground up. When you have more say in what kind of voice and spirit you want to have, and then build around that voice, you thrive. Interesting brands like interesting agencies. Staying independent helps preserve what made your agency unique and interesting in the first place.
Your culture is your key
Culture has been a central topic for discussion among agencies as long as we can all remember. Why? Because it's that important. Staying independent allows you to create and preserve the culture and environment that your people work best in. The choices and, more importantly, the sacrifices you make are up to you -- whether that means granting bonuses, throwing a party when you know your agency needs one, deciding to part with a client, or double-down on one. Most every decision we've made at our agency has been a reflection of our culture, which helps make our agency a place where people we like want to spend their time and talents.
Your clients see you differently (in a good way)
By being independent, clients know you don't have the safety net of a holding company. Your success is based entirely on delivering work that makes them successful. This means your best work is always required (and expected). It can be a curse and a blessing, but in an acutely competitive market, keeping yourself honest is a useful virtue. Clients know that you're in the relationship with the intent to make great things happen for them -- not only out of a sense of pride, but also to survive. They, in turn, have a vested interest in keeping you financially fit.
Your creative will thrive
Holding-company owned agencies can feel constant pressure to bring on bigger, higher-revenue clients -- even if those clients aren't healthy for the agency in other ways. Getting a bold idea sold and produced in that context is almost certain to be more challenging. Staying independent affords the freedom to not only find the right marquee clients for your brand, but also to choose clients because they offer tremendous creative opportunities, regardless of size. The chance to push your work can lead to awards and such, but more importantly, it leads to a happy creative department that gets its fill of challenging briefs and the freedom to execute them.
Your business can grow
Of course, some of the business acumen that we learned by working at holding company agencies in the past has served us well, but having the freedom to focus on our agency's total health has been far more rewarding than just driving margins.
By constantly aligning its distinct brand and culture, your independent agency can afford to remain independent, giving you the freedom to make the right decisions to grow your agency the way that works best for you.