Mike Fromowitz
Sep 8, 2013

Give big agency holding companies a break!

There is always some debate as to whether getting bigger is better. Some would tell you that our business is all about entrepreneurship and innovation, and that scale has historically been the bane of innovation and creativity.

Give big agency holding companies a break!

Those who work for independent agencies believe that if you don't answer to a holding company, you will be more agile, more creative, move more quickly and display more entrepreneurial spirit. They argue that smaller shops are clearly better places for talent. I don’t agree. Having worked for both large and small firms,  I believe that one mode is not necessarily better than the other. They are just different.

No doubt about it, the world’s biggest advertising agency holding companies have reshaped the industry landscape. By increasing their size and reach, they reap the benefits of cost savings and increased market capitalization, along with the potential for more powerful media negotiating.

Consolidation in our industry has been decades in the making and has been driven by the need for improved global reach to serve clients looking to emerging markets for growth, or to buy a capability such as digital or data/analytics that it has not developed for itself.

In the case of most consolidations, there has been little impact on the day-to-day running of the business as most ad agencies continue to operate separately, and even compete against each other when pitching clients.

The Benefits of Consolidation

As I see it, consolidation also provides powerful benefits for creativity and innovation to blossom through enhanced collaboration. Scale has enabled agencies to put together groups of talented people able to bring new insights, strategies, and ideas to the table that our clients perhaps never even thought of or considered before.

Ad agencies stuck on thinking that creating an ad campaign or a social marketing campaign is all there is to it, have just got it all wrong. It’s more about collaboration, and designing, developing and implementing platforms and solutions that solve business challenges and add value to our clients’ businesses.

It’s no longer about impressing a client with how many offices an agency has across the globe, but how they can pull together the best creative talent in the world, leadership management, strategists, planners, integrated media experts, designers, writers, content creators and more—professionals who know how to accelerate ideation and implementation. This is something the big brand agencies can offer clients that small and medium sized shops can not do. They just don’t have the clout nor the money to buy the best talent.

For example, David Beckham’s $40 million earnings between May 2010 and May 2011 were the highest in world of soccer. In second and third position are arguably the world’s two best players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who earned $38 million and $32 million respectively. Luis Suarez is also one of the best footballers in the world, so naturally he wants to play in the Champions League - and Liverpool cannot provide that for him in the coming season. An understandable reason for his wanting to leave. Liverpool have said they will not sell for less than £40m, which is a fair price considering his reliability when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net. How many soccer/football teams can afford that kind of talent? It’s the same with the world’s best advertising creative and project management talent. They want to play in the big leagues; on big businesses.

The big agency groups have the means to put some of most multidisciplinary creative teams together for client brands anywhere in the world. These holistic thinking, world-class teams can span planning, strategy, branding, branded content, digital, architecture, industrial design, retail, event marketing, technology, live experiences and advertising to power forward their business strategies. This approach has the ability to create work that can shape consumer behavior, not just communicate with them.

Just like Hollywood

Unlike other holding companies, WPP embraces the practice of building dedicated teams which tends to appeal to clients that crave seamless integration across disciplines and the efficiencies that come with it. They have done it for clients Mazda, Dell, Ford, Samsung, HSBC and others. Collaboration is not a new idea of course. Hollywood movies are a great example, as making a movie takes hundreds of collaborators from several disciplines.

Over the years, I’ve listened to creative heads of several agencies say that they feared losing their creativity and ability to innovate if they grew and became too big or were bought out by one of the major agency groups. I believe that may have been true then, but not now. When the big holding groups went on a shopping spree for advertising agency brands, media shops, digital shops and content providers, they were buying more than bricks and mortar. They were buying talent and leadership, and the potential to sting them together into powerful, collaborative advertising teams that clients are now demanding.

When you think of some of the products and services you can not live without, like your iPhone, iPad, Twitter or Amazon you come to realize that these products and services could not have come through to fruition without teams of people collaborating on a focused mission. Yet some of us in the advertising and marketing community are wary of collaboration because we feel threatened by it—worried that we will not get credit for our contribution. We want to be seen as creative stars, award winners, unique, individuals. This is a narcissistic mindset, endemic to a culture that has long past. For those not willing to collaborate on projects, I see this as a dangerous threat to their businesses and careers.

When people get together to collaborate on a project they’re not giving up their individuality. It’s quite the opposite. It’s more about realizing your potential and uniqueness. You are bringing your gifts to the table and sharing them with others.  It’s about bringing your ideas, your passion, your insights, your leadership and your culture to the table in pursuit of a common goal. And no company is able to do this in as big a way as some of the world’s largest global advertising agencies.


Mike Fromowitz


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