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The Influencers

Evolve or Die - The Rise of the Independent

INFLUENCER: CULT ECD Matt Watson says indie agencies are the agile client partners that all brands need and all creatives should want to be a part of

Evolve or Die - The Rise of the Independent

In a world where marketing budgets are being squeezed and margins are being scrutinised, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to ensure the best work gets out.

Clients want agility. They ask for the best talent, want their businesses transformed. All tomorrow and for a fiver.

How can the bigger networks deliver this? In a nutshell; they can’t.

Too much red tape. Too much bureaucracy. Too many different job titles. Too greedy. Too process driven. Too big to move. Too many old school thinkers. Too many over-thinkers. Too many time-sheets. Too little autonomy. Too much business thinking, not enough ‘partnering’. Too much outsourcing. Too much blame. Too much smoke and mirrors. Too many rules. Too much Excel. Too little time. Too many late nights. Too many weekends. Too many meetings. Too many emails. 

Catch my drift? The list goes on and on… but what’s the solution?

It’s time to change, time to listen to what clients are actually saying and adapt the way they do business to help support and partner their clients. The client/agency relationship needs to be a partnership, one built on honesty and respect. Rather than milking one another for cash and freebies, consequently getting sub-standard work, this needs to be a team effort where the goal is clear, and all involved work towards that final summit, free of anxiety, confident in plan and fuelled by a full night’s sleep.

No doubt this is going to offend some of my ex-colleagues, for that I apologise, but it’s time everyone takes a look at themselves. For better or worse - to move in the right direction as a business and agency for their clients and the needs of their business and brand.

And whilst everyone is taking a long hard look at themselves, changing their agency proposition or starting up a ‘cagency’ model, it’s time for the rise of the independent; the agile client partner that all brands need and all creatives should want to be a part of.

An independent can change like a chameleon, adapting to a business need or an arising problem. They have the free-thinking talent to get stuck in and make things happen, and they’re not hiding behind big network names, processes or their inability and lack of power to make effective and immediate decisions.

How do I know all this? Well my opinion is based purely on experience, having worked at big networks and now an independent. For example, during the first month of my new role at CULT, I heard two different global clients (in the UK and USA) say that an agency had told them they estimated “two weeks for one piece of static social content” - WT ‘flying’ F?!

You have to wonder what exactly these agencies are doing? Are they flying to the Caribbean to find the perfect spot of beach for their flat-lay background? Are they renting a helicopter to get that killer shot? Or is this simply their agency elongating process in a bid to make more money?

I can guess which one is true, because, simply put, it doesn’t take that long. 

My point, or what I’m trying to say is that we lack, as an industry, transparency. How can you create the best work for the best brands if you lack transparency with the people and clients you partner with? It’s all about the work and nothing but the work, in my newly appointed ECD eyes. How is the work going to benefit if you don’t have trust and transparency between partners?

Partnerships are what they say on the front of the tin, a ‘partner-ship’ between two parties, partners. The aim is to get the best from each other to create greatness. Greatness can’t be reached if you’re not transparent about who you are and how you work. And, if you’re not in it for greatness then what are you in it for?

This is reflected in how indies operate, grow and partner with their clients. It’s warts and all. There is nowhere to hide, which means greater learning curves for all. Even the leadership team, aka the guardian team have to be focussed on nurturing their teams and talent - we’re their people, their person when they need it most. As such, we’re in it together, through the tough times and the great times. Consequently, our teams learn quicker and overcome challenges more efficiently and effectively.

Learning makes us better. As an independent agency we’re poised perfectly to adapt more quickly and more effectively than our bigger counterparts. This means we can deliver relevant, disruptive, award-winning work that that helps us grow our clients business. An independent can make their client partner look good to their bosses when they need to - we are their real partner in crime.

If you want to stick with the slow-moving beast of a network, hiding behind the machine, clocking in and out everyday doing work everyone has seen before - good luck to you and I hope you have the heavy purse to sustain you.

If you want to roll up your sleeves, make a difference and create greatness - let’s chat.



Matt Watson is ECD  at CULT 

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