Small Agency Conference and Awards

If I knew then what I know now ... I'd manage my expectations

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If I knew then what I know now is a series of bylines from small agency executives about the lessons they learned in building their shops.

No matter how much intestinal fortitude you think you have, it will be tested at levels you never imagined when you launch an agency.

If you're like us, you walk away from a very secure and stable paycheck, deplete your savings to get set up, and face startup stress that will trickle down to your family in ways you can't even imagine. Then, over time, the fear of "Will anyone call us?" becomes "OK, were getting called, but which calls are the right ones to take?" All the while, you'll be riding the constant rollercoaster of emotions that will swing from "This is fucking incredible!!" to "Oh, my God, what have we done?!"

But, here's the deal: We start our own agencies because we like to make things, and we like to solve problems. It's in our core as creatives. And, a new agency does just that. So, difficult though it might seem sometimes, you need to constantly remind yourself why you started.

We would have bought a building when our agency launched in 2011 instead of renting

Where Camp & King hangs its shingle.
Where Camp & King hangs its shingle.

We love San Francisco, and we have one of the best views in the city—from our office, we can look directly at the Golden Gate Bridge, Crissy Field, Alcatraz and the Palace of Fine Arts. And there's no doubt that S.F. has another upside: an amazing talent pool. We source from many fantastic agencies, tech companies and artists. But the city also has a couple of downsides: the incredibly high cost of living—which is a factor in hiring young talent; and the fact that this talent has so many other fantastic agencies, tech companies and enticing startups to choose from. If we knew then what we know now, we might have reevaluated where we hang our shingle.

I would manage my expectations

When we decided to break out on our own, I can't tell you how many clients reached out with words of encouragement and promises to follow us. Looking back, about half actually did. A recurring reason for this drop-off rate is their uncertainty of what your new agency is capable of. Sure, they believed in us—we had a proven relationship that made them comfortable. But, as we started over, the lack of a deep bench and infrastructure caused more than a few to back away. Which leads me to the next point…

Launching an agency is a bit like going back to square one

You might have been lucky enough to have industry success, accolades and great case studies for Fortune 500 brands, but you're still a brand-new entity. And with so many new agencies and models popping up, it's critically important to establish credibility. For us, I can't tell you how much winning global responsibilities for Energizer helped give Camp & King a leg up over other agencies founded around the same time. Because, let's face it, with so many new upstart options, CMOs want to know your shop can handle the scope of their business, and that choosing you was not a mistake.

You are your brother's keeper

And finally, what might be the most important thing Jamie King and I have realized over the years: No matter how different we are, no matter what's come our way, no matter how sane or insane either one of us is at any given moment, we've always had a steadfast belief in each other, And that has been key to our success.

Roger Camp
Roger Camp

It's absolutely crucial for founding partners to be in lockstep about what you want your agency to be. Jamie and I have been each other's keeper, which sometimes means keeping the other person from overreacting, and other times being the one to overreact. Sometimes it means pushing, sometimes it's calling bullshit on them, sometimes it's consoling, and sometimes it's gloating together. The whole ride is going to be crazy as hell, so make sure you like who's riding in the car next to you. Without that, we would have crashed and burned a long time ago.

Roger Camp is co-founder of Camp & King.

Ad Age's Small Agency Awards contest is now open for submissions. To apply, go here. Also don't forget to sign up for Ad Age's tenth annual Small Agency Conference & Awards, to be held July 30-31 in New Orleans.

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