Relationships versus ideas

A recent Twitter exchange between John Winsor of V&S and Marty St. George of Mullen client, Jet Blue

Most successful ad agencies have been built around a combination of the two:  relationships and ideas. The former yields the kind of partnership that lets a brand team totally immerse itself in a client’s business, work as a partner rather than a supplier and take a vested interest in the success of the business.

That’s not to say that relationships are more important than ideas. After all, it’s the latter that goes into the market, attracting attention, generating buzz, driving results. No one gets famous from a relationship; it’s the ideas that make you immortal.

But you could argue that relationships contribute to great ideas in a big way. A strong relationship results in trust, which invites braver thinking. It yields a partnership that encourages client and agency to work through challenges and problems together. And it motivates creative teams to work even harder than they already do. We all want to please a client who appreciates what we do for them.

But if Will Burns, the founder of Ideasicle, is right, the relationship side of things just might be diminishing in value. In Will’s words, many clients care less about relationships and more about getting an idea faster, cheaper and more efficiently. He should know, having held senior account and new business roles at agencies that include Wieden, Goodby, Arnold and Mullen.

In response to that “trend,” Will created Ideasicle, an expert-sourcing agency.  Similar to the crowdsourcing model of Victors & Spoils, which also posts briefs to a vetted community of creatives, Ideasicle calls on an even smaller stable of hand-picked, experienced, award-winning creatives who have joined as “experts.” All of them have worked with Will in one of his previous positions, so he has a good sense of how to match them with assignments.

When Ideasicle secures an assignment – sometimes from an ad agency needing to augment and internal effort, but more often from a brand advertiser looking for fast, affordable access to top talent – it posts the news to members of the Ideasicle community. Those who are available agree to work on short notice as a swat team. They collaborate with each other online — conceiving ideas, revising them, making each other’s concepts better – but stay invisible and anonymous to clients. Hired guns, they work for the joy of creating and the guaranteed payday.

Ideasicle offers clients what it calls "expert sourcing."

Knowing my interest in crowdsourcing and new models, Will showed me a quick peek behind the curtain. The talent is impressive. And despite their anonymity, more and more clients are embracing the model, caring not who works on their business but rather what comes out of the process.

Like Victors & Spoils, which has generate impressive PR and clients – Harley Davidson, Levis’, Virgin America, General Mills, Discovery Channel – Ideasicle is challenging the traditional models as being inefficient and over-priced.

I’m not saying I agree totally with that sentiment. In a world where the only real trend that matters is hyper-connectivity, you could make an argument that brands need a deep relationship with an agency  like the one I work for, where a dedicated hyper-bundled team can deliver creative, paid media, earned media, mobile and digital all working together to produce coherent brand experiences that consider everything from context to culture.

But it’s also likely that the new models, anxious to prove the maxim that abundance breaks more things than scarcity, are to be taken seriously. Perhaps we should embrace aspects of what they do ourselves, finding ways to source ideas from more people and places and deliver them even more quickly and efficiently.

What do you think?

 

9 comments
BruceDeBoer
BruceDeBoer

The relationship is Will's isn't it? Without that relationship would clients trust Ideasicle to produce great results? My thought has been that relationships increase their importance as time and budgets shrink.

No time? You'd better trust the one you're with. No budget? The agency had better trust the client will take care of them on something that has a reasonable pay day.

LauLau81
LauLau81

Hi Edward, this is such an informative post! I agree with what you have said about delivering ideas as fast and effective as we could!

Latest blog post: Chamonix

peterlamotte
peterlamotte

Edward, thank you once again for a great post. Your last sentence in response to Ed is the key; “a problem for some, an advantage for others.” We, at GeniusRocket, have grown our business based upon the idea that some people simply aren’t looking for the partnership. Yes, they want communication and someone who understands their business, to a point. They don’t require an embedded partner to move in and dissect the many layers of their brand. They are simply looking for a tool that fulfills a need. To John’s point technology has changed the equation in many industries, but it goes deeper in that it has split the many parts of the traditional agency to become an a la carte service. Brands have to know that when they choose to order services a la carte from different companies rather than turning to an agency, like Mullen or V&S, they are gaining cost savings but they are to a degree loosing the embedded partnership. It is indeed; “a problem for some, an advantage for others.”

ed_flynn_
ed_flynn_

I think a smart client would strongly consider a hybrid of both. The hard part is figuring out who would be best at what types of projects. I think relationships have a better shot at producing ideas that are deeply baked into the core values and products of a client. The relationship has the advantage of really connecting all the dots in magical ways. Ideas from the edge can produce the magic by working without preconditions and knocking down all the barriers. With that said if I knew I had a talented product or internal team I would push for the agency to go deep and collaborate with them. If I felt my internal teams were struggling I would look for edge ideas that would not be constrained by politics, operations and the like.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@peterlamotte It's clear that agencies have begun to embrace a number of things they resisted just a couple of years ago. At first they poo-pooed Twitter, even Facebook. Now they live there. They resisted CGC and any form of crowd sourcing, now, even if they haven't read Clay Shirky, perhaps inspired by media or by clients, they are leveraging the participation of the crowd in all kinds of ways. At least some at the forefront are. And while they are still struggling with their models, their mindset, their briefs and their team structures, the change is inevitable. Perhaps we'll see yet another new hybrid. Brand agencies that offer strategy, insight and relationships, but that crowd source creative. V & S seems to be moving in that direction a little bit if I understand what they're up to. It make sense. Enables them to identify opportunities and be at the front of the line when those opportunities do appear.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@ed_flynn_ Yes, I agree. But what the new models deliver are lower prices and fees and fewer peripheral services. A problem for some, an advantage for others.

peterlamotte
peterlamotte

@edwardboches@peterlamotte I couldn't agree more, I have always found it comical when people say agencies will soon disappear because of new developments such as crowdsourcing. Adapt? Change? They better. But disappear? No way.