This article is by Debra Sercy, Joint CEO of North America, Grace Blue.
A recent, spirited presentation by PepsiCo President Brad Jakeman was yet another shot across the bow directed at advertising agencies from brands that feel the agency model is outmoded and failing to deliver results in today’s dynamic landscape. Echoing the sentiment of many on the client side, the executive touched on topics such as the need to partner with non-traditional content creators like Maker Studios, as well as the lack of innovation and diversity he feels agencies are bringing to the table.
As brands re-think their relationship with the ad world and work to keep ahead of technological challenges such as ad-blocking, many are going beyond just leaving their agency of record for a boutique strategy. They are also building in-house creative teams that expand past managing outside advertising and technology shops by producing creative content themselves. It’s a smart strategy for companies that need agile, modern leaders on their side who possess both deep knowledge of their brand strategy and a proven talent for making insightful, effective creative work.
This has opened up career opportunities for creative agency veterans who see a switch to the brand side as a way to challenge themselves and lead the evolution of the industry from the court instead of a front row seat. Examples abound of talent moving from agency to client-side, but former Omnicom/DAS COO Fiona Carter is the most recent proof of the trend. She is joining AT&T to oversee brand marketing and advertising and called her new role “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
While more than half of the candidates we meet want to move to the brand side of the table, we’ve seen that many executives are finding that life on the client-side isn’t what they bargained for. A lack of real creative opportunity, the restless feeling that comes with working on the same brand day in and out, conservative corporate culture and deep organizational hierarchies can leave creatively focused leaders feeling out of place. The result is that after a brief tenure in-house at a brand, those leaders realize the grass is the same color, and they end up returning to the more familiar environs of agency life albeit armed with a new sense of purpose and empathy.
So how can brands beat the boomerang effect and keep top creative talent happy and productive?
Give them decision-making power. We hear all the time that candidates want to go to the client side because they’ll be the ones “making decisions.” Many have said the reality is that they find themselves reporting to a slew of other stakeholders above and around them in the corporate hierarchy and they can’t truly make change. They end up feeling just as beholden to the “client” as ever. You hired an agency vet because they know what brilliant advertising looks like. Empower them to show you and have their back when they introduce a new way of working.
Allow freedom and authority. Freedom to take risks, freedom to fail, and freedom to bring truly fresh thinking to outdated ways of operating. Obviously, the requisite sense of responsibility must accompany that freedom, but a new perspective partnered with the authority to make change must be in place if a brand expects to see the benefit of tapping a new source of talent. Companies like Apple and Mondelez are examples of brands that have seen the positive effect that is a result of hiring agency leaders and giving them the authority to create new working models.
Combat boredom. The number-one complaint that drives talent back to agencies is the boredom of working on one brand, regardless of the depth of product lines and divisions within the company. Combat this by allowing creatives to flex into new disciplines (for example: from advertising to retail experience); move to a new region or division; and provide entrepreneurial funds to support their product-innovation concepts. Embrace and support their ideas – remember they were brought in to bring fresh perspective and challenge the status quo.
Build a creative environment. Creating a space where creativity can thrive isn’t about ping-pong tables and bean-bag chairs. It’s about building an environment and a culture where people have the space to collaborate, challenge each other, and share ideas, but also have the opportunity to ideate on their own. This can be nurtured physically by setting up workspaces in a way that will foster creative exchange, with comfortable spaces for conversation and ideas on the walls, but it’s also something that needs to be encouraged in a less tangible way. Show creatives that you value what they bring to the table and that you understand their development process is different from that of say, the purchasing department, by giving them the freedom to work as they see fit.
A great in-house creative team is a way for brands to take some of the power back from agencies, and the trend is perhaps a sign of the shape the brand-agency relationship will be taking in the near future. But it’s not enough for brands to attract top talent; they need to put in the effort to keep them happy and nurture their creativity if they want to get a real return on their investment.