We all know the agency business is rough these days. But not for everyone.
There are still a few people happily living the Mad Men life, completely immune to hazards of the trade such as procurement, endless spec pitches, and continuous assaults on one’s self-esteem. What is the business model that enables such luxuries you might ask? It’s called The Jesus Model. And it’s by far the greatest business model in the history of the agency business.
The only problem of course, is the acute shortage of people who can walk on water (AKA Jesus). A creative director with the right qualifications (immense talent, vision, integrity, and leadership ability, and ‘it’ factor) only comes along about once every 15 years. There was Bernbach, Clow, Goodby, and most recently Bogusky (we’ll have to wait a bit on Droga).
How does it work? Here’s a story from my days at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, then a sister agency to Crispin Porter Bogusky.
The management of CPB were all in the car when a call came in from a top client, asking the agency to pitch for an astonishingly large piece of business. With the client waiting patiently on hold, the team, one by one, eagerly agreed to the pitch.
Then they all turned to Alex. He unhesitatingly refused, and so the official answer was to politely decline. It turned out that Alex used a competitive product, which he liked better and didn’t wish to give up.
Ten minutes later the phone rang again. This time the same client was offering a $250,000 pitch fee. Would CPB reconsider? Again, the answer was no. Ten minutes later same scenario with a $500,000 fee. No again. Finally, the client called with their final offer: $750,000.
Alex agreed, but on one condition; he would use their product during the pitch, but if he didn’t like it, he would stay with his competitive product, and so would the CPB creative department. You know the ending by now: They won of course.
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound anything like the business I was in for 28 years.
I may have forgotten to mention, but there is one teeny weeny little problem with the Jesus model. What do you do when the great one doesn’t want to do it anymore? Alex (like Jesus) left us abruptly; right in the prime of his career to go to a ‘better place’ (called Boulder, CO).
In his absence, CPB put forth a fine group of next generation talent, who have done a great job keeping it going. But like all disciples, they are decidedly ‘mortal’, and so today is the agency. Yes they still do great work, but now they have to spec-pitch, just like everyone else. And I bet they’ve also had to learn some financial discipline too. They’ll probably keep growing and do just fine, maybe even better long term. But the way they’ll do it will be a lot like the way all of us other mortals have to do it.
PS: We are still awaiting the arrival of the first digital Jesus.