Great Agencies and Sourdough Share a Lot in Common
The other week on LinkedIn I let myself have a little rant. Those who know me would know I am not one to rant really. But the nonsensical word ‘cagencies’ came up again and I had a sudden reaction to it. It appears I am not alone, as almost 16,000 people liked what I said on social media and shared my point of view. Thanks folks.
Despite these social thumbs up by many nice folks, I am always one to question myself – it made me think, what is the future of agencies in this era of disruption? Lots is being said. Lots of people are sermonising the future. Lots of more talented people than me are sharing new models.
Thinking about all this pontificating made me become increasingly aware that many of them sharing new business models are missing the point of our industry somewhat. Obviously, I am a creative first and foremost so my view is more blinked than the business dudes. But I am a believer in beautiful things and craft. A believer in the power of an idea and what the forces of communication and design can do to move people. I’ve been lucky as I have helped launch and reinvent a number of successful commercial entities but always through the lens of 'make great work and the money will come'.
Maybe I am too simplistic in my thinking but I think the answer isn’t found in some new processes, new models or some stupid new word. That all just sounds like the normal course of our industry for making simple things ridiculously complicated. I might be alone here but I am wrong or naïve to think that our job is to make the complicated simple and simple alluring?
Maybe it’s just me but a lot of these people making the most of these claims are so far from the very craft and ideas that make our industry wonderful - it is unreal. I don’t understand how they believe they can predict the future at all when they are so far away from the very output or the stuff that our audiences soak. Little wonder P&G’s Marc Pritchard is demanding that more creatives be within agencies and our industry be focused on creativity. I am with Mr. Pritchard. Go dude and 100%!
The answer for me of course isn’t found in some excel spreadsheet or new invented term. Instead it is something much more simple, honest and human. For me the answer rests in something very basic and something very old. For us to be innovative and move forward it is often compelling to look back at something very ancient to gain a point of reference.
I am going to explain it via the vehicle of sourdough.
Well if people are going to talk in riddles about ‘Cagencies' and the like – I am going to use something bizarre like sourdough as my platform to explain the future of agencies.
Sourdough is a most wonderful, beautiful thing. Its origins align with the very building blocks of civilisation if you follow the breadcrumbs. It’s thousands of years old and even predates the early bronze age. It may be slightly trendy now but it’s something that families and many others have been fans of for generations.
So, stay on this journey but first I need to give you a quick baking lesson! Great sourdough starts with the quality of its ‘starter’. This is the engine of the bread. It’s the magical core that feeds its very soul. Get this wrong and it’s game over before you start. Very few ingredients are actually used in the making of a sourdough starter, but it’s essential that the ingredients that are used can only be of the highest quality to succeed. The preparation of sourdough begins with a pre-ferment, a fermented mixture of flour and water, containing a colony of microorganisms including wild yeast and lactobacilli. The purpose of the starter is to produce a vigorous leaven and to develop your individual flavour of the bread that you can craft from.
Flour naturally contains a variety of yeasts and bacterial spores. It’s a living breathing thing like a community of people. When wheat flour comes into contact with water, the naturally occurring enzyme amylase breaks down the starch into the sugars glucose and maltose, which sourdough's natural yeast can metabolise.
With sufficient love, time, temperature, and refreshments with new or fresh dough blending in, the mixture develops a stable culture. This culture will cause a dough to rise and in the end, produce an alluring, beautiful bread that is just right for the need at hand.
That’s the simplistic journey of sourdough but the best thing here is your ‘starter’ is a rolling culture that you dip into and feed. The starter lives on past its first loaf. It becomes the rolling soul for any shape or flavour of bread you want to make going forward. It’s the central engine that allows you to shape bread that can you take into any direction to solve any need or audience.
Your ‘starter’ can help you start creating bread that is suitable for any occasion or tastes.
Add ingredients or sweetness and other goodies into the mix and you can move the bread into something very luxurious. Be strict and singular and you can make the bread into something singular and focused in taste.
So how does this all relate to the agency of the future?
Well, the thing that makes agencies future proof is culture. First and foremost.
Not labels. Not processes. Not any other stuff. Culture is key.
Like our sourdough starter that is made from honesty and only the highest quality ingredients, an agency needs a central living cultural core that can be added to, blended with and moved into many directions and flavours to reshape and be relevant for whatever the need.
A core that works in a multidisciplinary mode that can form the building base for many an answer.
So how do you make a living culture? Well that bit is a secret recipe.
But please, let us avoid boxing ourselves in with pointless business terms. To future proof your agency, get closer to the work and craft. Get your hands into the realness and creativity of the work. Feed and create an honest and malleable culture without ego and labels. Celebrate your common values and your abilities to be different.
With Cannes going on, I am hoping that we might have the good sense to drop the bullshit business bingo, be more sourdough instead and just get on with celebrating the cultures and work that is the real driving differences between agencies that will make them future proof.