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Growing Your Company

Can Your Smaller Agency Do Really Great Creative?
by Tony Mikes

At Second Wind, we believe that the creative product is very important to the long-term success of a smaller agency, and we are always looking for success stories about creative. Here's one. Jeff Welch...

Jeff Welch, a principal of Mercury Advertising in Bozeman, MT, started his agency very small (just Jeff and co-founder Jamie Hurd) but it soon grew to 25+ employees, largely due to great creative work. Here, Jeff describes how they were able to accomplish that.

Believe.
Toss away all the "cant's". You have to create a culture of possibilities in your agency. You have to believe you can do great work.

Make sure it's in your DNA.
Doing great creative is the reason Jeff and Jamie started their agency. It was in their DNA. If it's not in your DNA, then you've got to find people who have it. Jeff says their agency is now trying to find people with digital DNA, because he feels digital is so important to the ongoing success of any ad agency.

Each opportunity leads to the next.
Each project and client, if the work is great, should lead you to something else. It should build your experience or your connections for reaching the place you are trying to go. In a great creative agency, there should be no doing "work for the sake of work". Every project counts to the greater good.

Money can't be the only reason to work with a client.
There has to be some satisfaction derived from all the work your agency does. Sure, money is important, but so is the attitude of your staff, their pride, and their belief in the work.

Always keep your mind open.
Many folks who are very creative are not like you. That isn't to say you aren't creative, but you must keep your mind open to new people, new ideas and ways to state things differently. One of the biggest detriments to great creative is complacency. Remember the old saying: if the work doesn't make the client a little nervous, it must not be very good.

Make people leave.
I was surprised in taking a tour of TBWA/Chiat/Day, the outrageously creative LA agency, to learn that they give their folks a lot of time off. Agency legend always had it that if you didn't work on Saturday, you might as well not come in on Monday. But you have to let creative people recharge their batteries. You can't run a sweatshop. And since creatives work differently than many other types of employees, you should be alert to moods, location, and stress levels.

Tolerate the anarchy.
A little bit of anarchy in the agency makes for better creative. I once heard someone explain leadership as the ability to move seamlessly from the dance floor to the balcony and back again. A leader participates in the chaos and fun on the agency floor, moves to the balcony when necessary to view the ballroom and see what's really going on, then moves back to the floor again to guide the process.

Mine the tension.
While you want to control negativity in your agency, you don't want everyone agreeing with each other either. You must mine that tension. Find the paradoxes, the conflicts. That's where great new ideas come from.

Thank you to Jeff for presenting his agency model at "Creative Juice", and allowing us to share his insights on building a great creative agency.

This article was written by Second Wind's managing director Tony Mikes. A former advertising executive who conducts agency management workshops, serves as a management consultant to individual agencies, and has addressed many advertising associations and trade organizations. He is also an author and contributing writer to numerous industry trade publications.