How the Big Agency Model Really Works

Original post on January 5, 2007

Caveat: I wrote this post 2 years prior to joining an advertising agency. It was based on my experience working with clients and their agency “partners.”  Having now been “in the business” for close to 3 years now (with a mid-size agency), I wasn’t too far off the mark.

The Big Agency Model

Dissatisfaction with the “Big Agency” business model has recently made the news. Some are calling for a new advertising model, that the old global network model is dead.  Here’s one man’s cynical view of why and how the “game” really works.

The Game

Big agency wins account with contract “pitch team”, innovative creative, and a promise of a global platform designed to create consistent communication, production efficiencies, and improve program/people spend, etc. The client drinks the “kool aid” but then quickly comes to realize that it was a sham.

The first play of the game comes with the introduction of the lead account manager, who looks nothing like the person introduced as the account manager in the pitch.  Shortly afterward the signed scope of work, they start to doing an impression of the “invisible man.”  And the once senior and experienced account team also starts disappearing, only to be replaced by fresh faced staff of kids just out of school.

The account relationships sputters along with marginal program/campaign performance. The client BU’s and regions get fed up with the “Global Platform” (never getting the attention and team promised) and start going outside using smaller, more responsive agencies (who happened to be the talent that left the big agency).

The innovative “creative” shown to win the account turns out to be the only truly creative thing produced in the last few years and it gets recycle in multiple pitches.

Big agency realizes the account is at risk and begins acquiring the smaller agencies serving the client to secure the account.  If the client is willing to commit to retaining the agency after all this…they promise to win them an award and get them really good concert tickets.

Again, this is just one man’s opinion…I could be wrong.

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scott.gillum

Scott is the Founder of Carbon Design Co and the former head of the Washington, DC office of gyro, the largest B2B agency in the world. Prior to joining gyro, he spent a dozen years at a professional services firm that specializes in B2B sales and marketing. Scott also writes a monthly column for Media Post and has contributed to three books on B2B Sales and Marketing. Follow him on Twitter @sgillum

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