All agencies and the people in them want to make a difference. We want our advice, our ideas and our creativity to change the way businesses behave, express themselves and perform. We want the satisfaction of knowing that what we did has worth and value; that is has improved the opportunities of our clients, the lives of their employees and the experience of their customers.
This desire to make a difference is simple to understand, but more difficult to achieve in the traditional agency business model. To understand why, it’s worth looking at a parallel but different business, ‘search’.
Back in the early 000’s, when all the other search engines were trying to capture and keep the advertising spend from the biggest 100 or so brands and corporations (let’s call it the Yahoo model), Google found a way to provide opportunities and to monetise the potential of everyone else. The thing about 'everyone else’, is that there are a lot of them, and when you add 'everyone else’ together, their spend amounts to a lot more than that of the top 100 brands. This idea, beautifully captured in the phrase ‘the long tale’, is what ultimately made Google so successful. But more importantly, it is also the idea that helped to democratise the web, lower the barriers of entry into thousands of markets and ultimately helped to make millions of other businesses successful too.
This relates to the current agency world because, for the most part, most agencies are still working to the Yahoo model; bag a big client, charge them for ‘added value’ and keep them for as long as humanly possible. This works well for both the established agencies and their big clients - everyone’s happy! The problem is that the price of access to great brand expertise and delivery is simply too high for most startups and SMEs. Big brands can afford big bucks, small ones can’t. Yet, perversely, it is the SMEs that are most in need of great branding advice - in order to be seen and heard in an increasingly cluttered and competitive world, they require all of the expertise and help they can get.
So how to create a model that enables creative people to do great work and make a difference at the same time as providing a cost-effective brand solution for clients?
The advent of easily accessible cloud sharing technologies, the disincentive of super high office rents and the global availability of hundreds of highly specialised and experienced ‘consultants’ has created an environment that enables more flexible 'network agencies’ to prosper for the first time. Managed well, these ‘networks’ have the ability to build teams on a needs basis and draw on expertise from across industries to advise and service clients in the most effective ways possible.
The startups and SMEs benefit from valuable and 'better value’ expertise whilst the agency makes a sustainable living and has the satisfaction of making a difference.
A cost-effective, virtual network of industry experts starts to look like a compelling proposition.
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