Is Your Agency Account-Driven or Creative-Driven?

Neither Is Wrong, but Try Mixing Things Up

By Published on .

Darryl Ohrt
Darryl Ohrt
One of the great things about being a small agency is that we get to work with a variety of larger agencies. Our agency has had the fortune of working with ad agencies, PR firms, marketing firms and even other digital agencies. I've also interviewed agencies across the country while on the Humongo Nation tour. In the process, I've noticed something consistent of just about every firm, across the country. Agencies all fall into one of two categories: creative-driven or account-driven.

There's not a right or wrong here, but there is a clear difference between the two cultures. And it's not that creative-driven agencies don't care about their clients, or that account-driven agencies can't conceptualize. They do, and they can.

Creative-driven agencies tend to lead with idea first. They're out to accomplish what hasn't been done before, and to wow their clients, colleagues and the industries that they serve. They'll also position a creative person prominently in presentations to clients. Creative people sell the ideas, and the account team provides the necessary support for these ideas. The creative director at a creative-driven agency will naturally have more sway as to what concepts get presented and what gets cut.

Account-driven agencies, on the other hand, lead with a results-oriented rationale. They're less interested in how ground-breaking the idea is, or how much buzz and awareness it generates, and much more interested in what it might accomplish, how it fits the client's plan and ultimate goals. Account people lead the presentation, and it's typically an account director who wields the power to determine what ideas are presented to the client, and which ones stay home.

This goes beyond the age-old creative teams vs. account teams. Those battles exist at both kinds of agencies every day. And it's not about creative without any strategy, or results-oriented work that's not creative. This is more about an over-arching philosophy that's typically driven from the top of the organization chart.

I know that as a creative person, I would have a frustrating time as an employee of an account-driven firm. That likely explains a fair amount of the employee discontent at agencies, too. When people are working at a wrong-sided agency, they become frustrated because the agency doesn't match their own cultural or career desires. Nothing infuriates a creative person more than seeing fantastic ideas not getting the opportunity they deserve. And great account people want to kill when they see campaigns that aren't focused toward obtaining measurable results.

Clients also seem to fall into these two categories as well, and typically gravitate toward one or the other style agency, based on their preferences. When everyone remains on their respective side of the fence, everything is in order and everyone's happy. Right?

Why not mix it up a little? Is that even possible?

We're a creative-driven agency, but our parent company is account-driven. This has produced an interesting dynamic, as we both push each other to new heights. We believe this is a winning combination, as it sets us up to learn from each other, push each other in new directions and explore new opportunities for our clients that we might not realize on our own.

This setup doesn't come without challenges. We've left some world-changing ideas on the floor. And we've presented a couple killer concepts when the client only wanted a strategic below-the-line response. We've successfully mixed together people that might otherwise be frustrated together, and it works because at the end of the day, employees get to return to their comfortable creative or account nests. Everyone's happy. More importantly, we've all benefited from the company of each other on projects and client presentations.

This is why we enjoy partnering with other agencies who aren't exactly like us. It's not that we're mixing oil and water together, but salt and pepper. Both awesome ingredients brought to the table to make things better.

What about your agency? Are you creative-driven or account-driven? Could you benefit from just a little more creative or account juice at your next client presentation?

Darryl Ohrt is a former punk rocker and chief contributor to the greatest blog in all of the land, BrandFlakesForBreakfast. While his official title is president, his business card says he's "Prime Minister of Awesome" at Humongo, a Source Marketing company. Darryl knows just enough to be dangerous. He's on the internet right now, playing, investigating and exploring. Watch out.
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