A recent survey from the 4As reported that advertising agencies with more than 500 employees bill their clients $964 per hour for their chief creative executives. And Art & Copy, the recent documentary about the advertising industry, quoted that 80% of all advertising in the U.S. is created by the large agencies of the top four holding companies. That's a lot of clients being billed $964 per hour for creativity.
Yes, this seems like a lot of money, but is it too much? Great ideas, after all, are priceless. And there are dozens of examples where the value created from a brilliant campaign makes the large agency hourly rates a bargain. But I bet there are just as many that aren't. For every "Where's the Beef" there are many forgettable campaigns as well.
It seems that many marketers looking for ground-breaking ideas automatically turn to the big agencies; given their track record, they are considered a "safe bet." But at $964 per hour that bet is perhaps riskier than many people think. Increasingly, great ideas are coming from smaller agencies... Ad Age recognized this trend with their recent editorial titled "Small agencies should be part of a balanced review."
I know from my own experience running a mid-sized, independent agency that great ideas come from everywhere. Ideas are not the sole domain of large agencies, or even senior people at agencies of any size. But it does take a professional team: account planners, creative directors, and creative teams are a must for creating great marketing campaigns that will drive results. Not everyone is a marketing copywriter; I don't agree with Unilever's recent move to fire their agency to crowdsource their advertising for one of their brands.
Creativity does take a team with talent, a great brief, and a flawless process. But in a time when the business reality demands value and agility like never before, marketers should take themselves out of the large agency comfort zone, and look more broadly and in unexpected places for great ideas. They might just find that priceless ideas don't have to come with a staggering price.
In partnership with the ARF
Sharon Napier is President and CEO of Partners + Napier, an independent, mid-sized agency that liberates the promises of brands wherever they live. The agency partners with leading brands including Kodak, Constellation Wines U.S., Lactalis American Group, Wegmans, Citibank Student Loans, Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, Bausch & Lomb, UPS, Thule, and Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.