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If the People of Fishbowl Started an Agency, This Is How They Would Run it (or Ruin It)

6 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, a Creative Director working in the advertising and design industries for over 15 years. I believe bringing data and creativity together lets us speak to people in a way we never could before, making it more relevant and personal.
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I stumbled upon a post recently, where a bunch of anonymous people on Fishbowl talked about how they'd run an agency, if it were all up to them.

Oh, btw, if you're not familiar with Fishbowl, it's an anonymous social media platform or forum where people can ask questions comment upon them. When you answer, you can identify as your position (Creative Director) or your agency (Saatchi & Saatchi) or your name (yeah, right…).

Now, there was a lot of overlap between people and of course, some crazy ideas. But, it got me thinking: could an agency even exist with the long wish list they all put together?

So, let's build this crazy agency and see if it works!



Equality For All

  • "Mandate the agency to be 50/50 men and women at all levels." - Creative Director 1
  • "Equal pay for equal work." - Senior Strategist 1
  • "Make sure the employee make-up is equal across every measure." - Freelance (former BBDO) 1

This is definitely a sign of the current state of our industry. We're realizing more and more that the advertising world is super white and super male. Now, it's not bad to be those things, but it limits the understanding of our audience, when we only have one perspective.

Now, this is takes longer in already-established agencies (you can't just snap and Thanos away half the agency to hire equal parts right away). But seems like something we should be able to do in a new one. Let’s do it!

Less Meetings

  • "Only one meeting a day, no matter what." - Art Director 1
  • "Wednesdays are meeting-free and no other meeting can be longer than 45 minutes." - Creative Director 1

Okay, I hate meetings as much as the next dude, but this is clearly a suggestion from a crazy person. I know that without some of the meetings that I have, I'd be drowning in ten times the emails I already have and twenty times the Slack messages.

A good suggestion, but let's say one meeting per day, project you're on. But, I do love meetings-free Wednesdays. And 45 minutes each is reasonable. Approved!

Nobody's Boss

  • "Eliminate titles in the creative department." - Art Director 1
  • "Flat structure." - Vice President 1

Well, this suggestion is coming from both ends of the hierarchy, so there's gotta be something there. But, here's what I've realized: if there was no hierarchy, nothing would get done. As a creative director, I manage all the stuff, like keeping consistency across the work, so that my team can actually do the work itself.

We need some structure, otherwise every single person has equal say, regardless of experience or knowledge. So, things like mentorship and wouldn't be a lot more difficult.

Hierarchy sucks, but I'm gonna veto this one. Though, let's do what we can to reduce the levels. The acronyms get overwhelming.

Money

  • "Transparency with pay scales." - Senior Art Director 1
  • "Hire the least amount of people possible and pay them all the same, say $400k. If you stay 5 years, you get a raise, across the board, however much money the agency can afford - say $700k." - Freelance (former BBDO) 1

First one seems good. We're a money-fearful society. But, transparency with money could help with things like pay discrimination, feeling undervalued, and completely screwing over employees. Yes, let's do it!

Now, that second one is pure bonkers. Okay, let's put the numbers themselves aside. I do like the idea of equal pay across the board, though it's hard from a practicality sense. Inherently some people are more easily replaceable than others, so some are more valuable. Gotta compensate them for their time somehow.

It's All The Client's Fault

  • "Manage client expectations (and no "yes and" account directors)." - Senior Strategist 1
  • "Only take on clients who understand that an agency is a partner, not a vendor." - Creative Director 3
  • "Do not accept client meetings the day before or the day after holidays for any reason." - Creative Director 1
  • "Only work with kind clients." - Vice President 1

We so hate the people who give us money. In an ideal world, the client would back up a truck of money to our doors and back off, right?

Okay, sarcasm aside, of course agencies and clients have to learn it's a partnership. We each have specialties, so there needs to be some trust. But each of us has our own agenda, and if we want to keep that trust, we need to lose it. That's why agencies and clients usually part ways after 5-ish years.

But generally, I like this. Only good clients, why not?

Awards

  • "Give account management bonuses for creative awards won." - Creative Director 2
  • "Don't focus on cannes lions at the cost of everything else." - Creative Director 3

Don't get me started on awards. Make good work first. If it aligns with awards, that's great. But that's not what the industry is doing right now, mostly.

I say no awards at our new agency!

Collaborate on Ideas

  • "Create a collaborative environment that allows everyone to be part of the strategic and creative process." - Senior Strategist 1
  • "Open dialogue - good ideas come from everywhere." - Vice President 1
  • "All department leads influence partnership and collaboration." - Senior Integrated Producer 1
  • "Every brief and pitch is open to everyone, and everyone must come to the table with ideas that are creatively amazing and business amazing and strategically sound." - Freelance (former BBDO) 1

Okay, I actually don't like this. I like two things in an agency:

  1. Ownership of the work that you do - you're depended upon to deliver, and if you don't, it's on you.
  2. Recognition of people's specialties - consistently good ideas don't come from anywhere.

The idea that "a good idea can come from anywhere" is true, but they consistently come from the creative department. That's the whole point of being a creative. If the structure of an agency is built around the "collaborative" idea that anyone can do the creative's job, then it's full of group brainstorming sessions and creative by committee.

Nope, veto this. I hate it.

I Have a Complaint

  • "Monthly anonymous criticism submissions where people can voice their complaints without threat of retribution and have those complaints actually addressed." - Senior Strategist 1

In the wake of things like Havas's leadership posting up anonymous criticism from their employees on their lobby wall, for some reason, this needs to be made a point.

But the second part, about those complaints actually being addressed, that's important. Not only do people want to be heard, but they want to feel like they have some effect on the place where they spend most of their lives.

So, complain away, it's part of the new agency!

Everything Everyone Wants

Okay, there were a lot of suggestions and some seem like "no duh" ones to me. But, I guess it's not obvious to everyone. So, take a look, because this is the bare minimum for every agency:

  • "Emphasize empathy and mandate a culture of respect." - Senior Strategist 1
  • "Keep workloads even." - Account Supervisor 1
  • "No assholes." - Creative Director 3
  • "Don't be a bunch of sell-outs." - Creative Director 5

Let's at least aim for these...

There is No Perfect Agency

Nothing is perfect. Not for everyone, at least.

We're all looking for something different, and so it's up to us to find what it is that makes us happy. Whether you like long hours or a healthy work/life balance. Or maybe you like silos and not a collaborative agency. Maybe you love meetings, or maybe you never want to see another face.

Remember that in the end, you have the choice of where you work. You make the compromise between major and minor priorities.

But there is no perfect agency.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this, say hello @thejeremycarson. LinkedIn Instagram

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