How to Fix the Agency Model

Four Reasons Why a Production Structure Will Help Agencies Succeed

The idea that the agency model is "broken" is something that's been kicked around the advertising world for a while now, with few concrete ideas to suggest what might replace it -- until recently. During a spirited speech at the Association of National Advertisers' Masters of Marketing conference this October, PepsiCo president Brad Jakeman called out ad holding companies' lack of interest in acquiring content studios and the apparent reluctance of advertising veterans to move away from traditional platforms like TV.

While I'm not on board with the argument that the advertising world hasn't caught up to our digital reality, I can't disagree that the agency model is overdue for a full overhaul. It goes without saying that the days of producing a TV spot with some print and digital work to back it up are over, yet this is the workflow many agencies are still structured for. Brands are now expected to produce thousands of pieces of content in an endless cycle, on a fraction of the budget they might have had for a campaign 20 years ago. This is a state of affairs that most agencies completely understand, but are not set up to accomplish in the most effective, efficient way.

It's time for a better, smarter way of doing business. Today's client needs call for a model that grafts the creative assets of the traditional agency onto the structure and technical capabilities of a production company. Where planning was once integral to the usefulness of an agency, these days things move so quickly that the ability to be flexible and react instantly is often a more valuable and useful skill. This is what the production structure and mindset allows for. Here's what else it brings to agencies:

1. A production model allows agencies to bring content to market quickly. There's no waiting for back-and-forth with third-party production companies. There's no drawn-out approval process, no time spent briefing someone else's creatives, no worry that your team won't mesh with someone else's. You control the creative process and the production schedule, from start to finish.

2. It enhances the creative process by allowing for experimentation. Just as startups innovate through rapid prototyping and endless testing, agencies with production capabilities built in can keep pushing their ideas forward, and discard what doesn't work, without paying a third party for the project.

3. The agency production model allows you to produce a huge variety and volume of content across platforms. Delivering beyond the brief and showing your client that you're capable of iterating and pushing your creative in many different directions is hugely valuable.

4. It allows agencies to react to what's happening in the news and in culture in real time. It's not enough to just create content for your clients -- it needs to be relevant. This is crucial for brands trying to gain earned media and have a voice in the larger cultural conversation.

The agencies that are well placed in this era are those that were born from production companies in the first place, and later evolved into creative agencies. They have built their creative process off a production foundation and now are finding that they are well-suited to the current climate. But that's not to say that traditional agencies can't catch up. In fact, some larger agencies are wisely beefing up their production capabilities by building studios and hiring in-house production teams. In the coming years, those that don't or can't do the same will likely find themselves left behind.

By  Vann GravesPublished - AdAge - November 04, 2015.

FL+G Launches


Vann Graves departs Fancy Rhino, launches FL+G

Less than a year after joining the company, president and CCO Vann Graves has parted ways with Fancy Rhino, and has announced his intention to launch his own agency.

Based in Chattanooga, TN, the eight-person agency will be named FL+G, as determined by a poll of Campaign US readers last week. The name — suggested by Susan Credle, Global Chief Creative Officer of FCB and a friend of Graves — refers to the initials of the agency’s founding leadership team. (Integrated producer Ivannah Flores, strategist Kate Lamb, account director Sally Lynch and director/editor Josh Gross).

A veteran of BBDO and McCann Erickson, Graves left New York in 2014 to help Fancy Rhino, which is based in Chattanooga, evolve from a production house into a self-described "content creation company." The partnership won early attention with clever ads for Torch, a child-friendly router, that played on the innocent associations children have with terms like "blue balls" and "happy ending."

But the partnership was "not a perfect fit," Graves wrote in a column for Campaign US last week, and eventually dissolved.

Fancy Rhino currently has no plans to fill the role Graves originated, the agency said. Instead, Isaiah Smallman, cofounder and CEO, is "stepping back in as president," he said, and Drew Bellz, cofounder and CCO, will assume Graves’ creative duties.

"We’re happy to have Vann doing his own thing but excited about what we’re doing, and hopefully down the road we’ll have the chance to collaborate," Smallman said. The agency has also counted Kia, Samsung and Office Depot among its clients. 

Torch now becomes the first client at FL&G. The company is no longer working with Fancy Rhino.

Graves describes FL+G as "a creative agency that operates on a strategic production model. We stand by the belief that quality content is the way of the future for successful brands, so we’ve integrated a production mindset seamlessly into our brand building process," he said.

Allowing the public to pick his agency’s name was "a vulnerable experience," Graves said — and precisely the sort of thing he would advise a client to do, which is why he did it.

"This is exactly the kind of creative and experimental approach that I've always envisioned for my own agency, and I couldn't be more thrilled with the results," he said. "This type of process is what I would ask my clients to entrust me with, so, by kicking off FL+G in this way, we are representing how we will work with our future partners."

By Douglas Quenqua Published - Campaign - February 29, 2016


Why I'm starting my own agency


More than two decades ago, at a time when our industry was just a little simpler, I joined BBDO New York as a completely green, yet unwaveringly optimistic, creative intern. I was lucky enough to be ushered into this crazy business by the late Phil Dusenberry — the legendary man behind campaigns like GE’s "We Bring Good Things to Life" and Pepsi’s "The Choice of a New Generation," and certainly one of the industry’s greatest creative leaders.

Phil must have instantly picked up on my determined enthusiasm, as he didn’t waste a minute instilling in me the importance of independence when it comes to fostering great creativity. A certain amount of independence is absolutely critical to it. This is still true today, even as the advertising industry has evolved and gotten more complex. Undeniably, every creative still has an innate desire to craft things without others telling them what to do. This eventually turns into a desire to strike out on one’s own. Even Phil tried his hand at this in 1969. After his initial seven-year stint as a copywriter at BBDO, he left the agency to start Dusenberry Ruriani & Kornhauser, returning to BBDO in 1977. He came back, because, despite its "bigness," BBDO ultimately offered him the perfect balance of creative freedom and opportunity. It was home, and Phil was fulfilled.

For a very long time, I was creatively fulfilled there too. I spent 15 years at BBDO, and I got to work alongside some of the best in the business. The mentorship of these brilliant creative minds is precisely what got me to VP, Creative Director by the time I left. Later, I spent six years at McCann New York, where I got to work on massive clients like Coke, MasterCard and American Airlines. Many of these accounts were equally as inspiring to me on a personal level as they were impressive. There aren’t many other places where you can work on a piece of business like the U.S. Army after you’ve already dreamed up loads of creative ideas from actually being on active duty. I was on a high, and I wasn’t coming down anytime soon.

Fast forward to 2015, when life and love kicked in. My best friend and devoted wife landed her dream job in Chattanooga, Tenn. It was my turn to be her biggest cheerleader. Fortuitously, Chattanooga was an emerging hub for startups, bubbling with the same spirit of possibility that I displayed on my first day at BBDO. Phil’s simple lesson came flooding back: "It’s all about the work, the work, the work," and soon, the indie itch started to emerge. However, I wasn’t ready to go all in yet — that was a big step.

Leaving McCann was terrifying, and I wanted to create a situation that gave me the best of two worlds — a welcoming, established home and a place where I could produce and practice my craft on my own. I was thrilled when an opportunity arose for a job as President and CCO at Fancy Rhino, a young production company that had gotten a successful start a few years before in the documentary space. I was at a place where I saw the potential to creatively shape a company – not just its clients – and suddenly, the pull to do my own thing started to grow.

I stayed at Fancy Rhino for about a year. During that time, my indie itch only got stronger. I began to realize that while my opportunity there was great, it was not a perfect fit. With a final push from Shelley Prevost, the CEO of our first client, Torch, it felt like it was now or never. So, I reached out to a few friends (now my founding team), and they agreed that it was time to create something that we believed in. A year away from big agency life had opened my eyes. I was ready to take the plunge.

By that time, I knew that a different kind of agency model was essential to making creativity work in a rapidly shifting marketplace, and I knew that this model would not come to full fruition until I built it from scratch. Marketers today are demanding high quality, shareable content, in every form. And they are demanding it faster than ever before. However, it takes a certain type of creative agency to understand that content is not just content for its own sake — when executed properly, it is a highly effective creative solution to a business problem. It also takes a certain type of creative agency to bring quality content to market quickly and efficiently enough to meet these demands.

My founding team, formed with former colleagues of similar mindset, will be armed with a skillset rooted in both production and creative. Using our agility and technical capabilities to encourage experimentation with content, our goal is to integrate production seamlessly into the brand building process. We will have the freedom to deliver beyond a client’s brief and to demonstrate that we can steer our creative in many different directions.

My hope in starting my own agency is that other entrepreneurially-minded creatives might also be inspired by the prospect that, amidst the noise of technology and new media, creativity does still matter; that an efficient structure enables it; and that this noise is actually an opportunity, not a hindrance. Every day, threats to the agency model are bemoaned and dissected; so-called "in-house agencies" are becoming the norm to solving the problem of efficiency, and the agency world is pointing its fingers at Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and publishers for encroaching on a space that we used to own. But we need to stop pointing fingers and realize that agencies can have a model that’s special and capable of bringing big ideas to life – as long as we’re willing to rethink how we operate those agencies.

In the spirit of honoring the bold creative ideas I’ll be asking my clients to trust me with, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and asking the industry to help me name my new agency. And in a nod to the entrepreneurial drive that I credit to my creative friends and mentors, I’ve asked a few of them to throw their suggestions in the hat. The name will be decided through a poll that will be featured here tomorrow. I couldn’t be more thrilled and excited to be able to strike out on my own in an industry that truly never shies away from possibility.

By Vann Graves Published - Campaign - February 24, 2016