The long hours. The crazy deadlines. The incessant pressure. The lack of resources. The constant questions. The eighth set of revisions. The lack of briefing. The 7 hour delay at Laguardia airport. There’s a lot we deal with in our day to day work. So why do we put up with it? It’s not as if we are out of touch, out of fashion and out of options. Agencies are continuously raided for talent by the tech giants and brands for in house teams. We are heavily in demand and can take our skills elsewhere. What’s more, there is a general malaise and sense of pessimism in the future of the agency model. Programmatic buying calls into question the need for outsourcing activities such as media buying. So why do we stick around?
Consider this: The strategist in an agency is able to advise, to direct, to recommend. But we never have control over the outcome, since ultimately this sits with the client. We have to fight to win the business. Then we have to fight to deliver against expectations and keep the business. We have to continuously prove our value in ways that we simply wouldn’t have to if we worked on the other side of the fence. We are being squeezed by the media and technology giants, with their deep pockets and near limitless resources who are continuously telling brands that they don’t need agencies.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This isn’t a feeling born out of some sado-masochistic sense. Rather, it is an understanding that the pain we endure as a result of deeply uncomfortable situations that only happen on the agency side makes us better. It sharpens our capabilities and crystallizes our understanding of how to tackle situations. It increases our confidence in saying no, in saying that the client is wrong, in saying that you’re right, because you understand the outcome and you want to do everything you can to avoid that pain again.
Consider the alternative. Are you likely to be as nimble, as well rounded if you worked for a media or tech giant? I would argue that you wouldn’t be. For starters, if you work for those types of organizations, you are not a strategist since you are selling a product. We have previously explored the difference between selling a solution versus selling a product. I won’t re-prosecute that here, except to say that I think a part of me would die a little if I knew that ultimately what I was selling was not necessarily in the best interests of the client, but necessary to achieve my quota.
What about working for an in house team? This would certainly give you an unprecedented degree of depth in a specific industry or vertical, giving you the control you need to materially impact results and execute projects. But it would cut down on your ability to look across industries and extract macro-trends. It would limit the breadth of perspective that is necessary to be a really great strategist.
While those are compelling reasons to not go client or media side, they aren’t reasons to keep us agency side. After all, as strategists, we are naturally optimistic, and we need a positive reason to stay as opposed to negative reasons not to go.
We do what we do because of a passion to learn, to explore, to experience new things and meet new people. We enjoy starting conversations with people in industries that we have never explored before. We love pitting our wits against new situations. We are empowered by the chaos of agency life, the need for speed and mental dexterity. And we are emboldened by being surrounded by smart and opinionated people. Above all, we are energized by the diversity of the agency experience. It is this diversity that we can’t find elsewhere, certainly not in an in-house team that is focused continuously on a single product or service, or a media company that sells a product dressed up as a solution.
In this, agencies have a responsibility to create environments that allow diversity to thrive. Diversity of backgrounds and experiences. Diversity of gender and race. Diversity of opinions and approaches. For this diversity is really the last bastion of the agency experience that is left, the last thing that keeps us doing what we do, where we choose to do it.
The tech giants can keep their monochromatic brogrammer cultures and deep pockets. The in-house teams can dig deeper into analyzing incremental improvements. For all the adversity that comes with being a strategist in an agency and all the pain it brings, give me the diversity, the breadth of scope, the room to maneuver and the ability to learn that only comes with this role. This is why we do what we do.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.