What You Can Learn From Independent Agencies

On October 19 in New York City, 28 of the most innovative independent agencies opened their doors to the public for WalkaboutNYC, an event that offered a behind-the-scenes look at the offices, culture, and processes of these dynamic agencies. This event shed light on questions of how small independent agencies function, and why they are beating out bigger companies in the competition for influential brand campaigns. The answer: willingness to embrace new technologies, culture, and flexibility.

The landscape of the creative branding industry is continuously evolving to keep up with the pace of emerging technologies. Large, more established agencies sometimes struggle to adapt -- they are often more bureaucratic and are more wedded to established ways of working. However, many of the smaller agencies are designed with an eye toward technological experimentation. Instead of thinking about technology as something they simply need to use or keep up with, it's at the center of everything they do. They design for mobile and Web first, and then adapt to TV and print, if necessary. Not the other way around.



In addition, the culture of the smaller independent agencies often promotes a more collaborative structure to encourage cross-department discussion. They often incorporate their employees’ outside interests and talents into their work. For example, it’s not uncommon to have a developer who has a passion for photography participate in a shoot. The traditional silos of the big, conglomerate agencies simply don’t exist within their independent counterparts.

Culture fuels the creative process

In a frenetic, bottom line-driven world, developing an enriching company culture can often take a backseat to productivity. Independent agencies, however, place great importance on developing a culture that breeds inspiration and creativity, due to the belief that it will ultimately affect their work. 

In an industry that requires constant innovation, a more dynamic and varied workday can greatly benefit the creative process.

If you build it they will come - and stay

The connection between creative personalities and the types of work environments they prefer helps to explain the current popularity of independent shops over conglomerates. In any business it's important to hire the right people and give them the freedom to exercise their talents. However, from an employee’s perspective, it’s more rewarding to work at a place where you can touch every part of a project and take real ownership over it. At a larger agency this is much harder to achieve. You would need to be in a very senior position to have the same kind of bird's eye view that a more junior employee at a smaller agency has access to.

The access to the full creative process, the close collaboration, and the willingness to play with new technologies help the independents compete and quite often, win the war for talent. In a creative business, the best talent and best ideas always produce the best work.  If you can hire and foster this talent through company development and collaborative culture, you will have the comparative advantage.

Clients care about culture, too

Employees are not the only ones judging whether an agency's environment is a good fit for them; clients also care about the culture of the companies with which they do business. Although the brands themselves are often large, bureaucratic organizations, they don’t want to be frustrated by their agency’s bureaucracy. Companies are often drawn to the independent shops because they are nimble and not mired in strict processes. People work with people they like, and also appreciate the direct access to creative teams.

Large or small, creative agencies of all sizes are capable of producing great work. Don’t be afraid to experiment, promote collaborative brainstorming processes, and encourage departments that may not typically interact to communicate more. Give more ownership to your employees over challenging projects; encourage more people to contribute their own ideas. Shed any inefficient methods of the past and integrate fresh ideas that can develop into successful processes. Your clients will be happier for it, and so will your bottom line.


1 comment about "What You Can Learn From Independent Agencies".
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  1. Steve Schildwachter from BrightStar Care, November 1, 2012 at 9:13 a.m.

    About a year ago, I had the pleasure of attending a conference of independent agencies. Summary at but in three words it was "small is beautiful".

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