I believe that the differentiating factor between a successful agency and an unsuccessful one isn’t really about the star power of its creatives or planners. The key ingredient is the work culture and account management capabilities.
I have worked in some great agencies and some really shitty ones. I grew the most, along with others, in the best agencies. We did our best work there. We could do so because it was led by capable people in management who encouraged when encouragement was due, who gave clarity, who ensured clear lines of communications and responsibilities.
A capable ‘servicing’/ management person understands the business of their client. They might not be capable of thinking of original solutions but they must be capable of appreciating the problem that needs solving and be able to evaluate the work against the objective of solving that problem. They must be capable of building a relationship where client learns to articulate their problems clearly, where each person respects each other’s time, where there is enough openness to perform blue sky thinking.
These are essential KRAs for management people in agencies. These capabilities form the spine of an agency. Without this spine, an agency begins its descent towards being a brown dwarf.
Unfortunately, I see many agencies losing that spine. People are working without clarity, without conviction, without purpose. I am not blaming a particular agency. I believe it is systemic.
The reality is, a capable manager can earn more, do more on client side/ media side or with tech companies. Agencies don’t pay well enough at entry level, they don’t train their people meaningfully and neither is there a vision of where the agency businesses will be and consequently where the manager’s careers will be in the future. Any sensible person will jump the ship.
That’s what is happening. We have overworked smart juniors who are growing disillusioned with the industry that doesn’t recognise their input. We have under-challenged, angsty, under-motivated senior management who are not keeping up with the times. The smart agile ones are leaving the industry and the ones who are left (out of love for the craft or otherwise) are increasingly cynical, quite naturally.
Its not tough to change course and build agencies for the 21st century. I am yet to witness it though.