why do agencies hit the skids?

When I was a young pup, the list of agencies I would have died to work at included names like Arnold, Wieden & Kennedy, Fallon and GSD&M.

All agencies, at one time or another, hit a bit of a rocky road, whether it is because of difficult clients, the loss of key talent or struggles with their meteoric rise.

With the news that GSD&M has been scythed to half of its size at its 2006 peak, the question was begged: why do some agencies keep on keepin’ on while others hit the skids?

And while others wither and die.

Part of the reason that some agencies hit the skids is clearly the loss of talent. Fallon alone has fathered (not in that way, sicko) Toy, Barrie D’Rozario Murphy and Brew. That those agencies exist is down to the exiting of top creative talent from Fallon, including Ari Merkin, Bob Barrie, Stuart D’Rozario and Bruce Bildsten…which has really hobbled Fallon. As you would expect it would.

But Crispin Porter has succesfully weathered the loss of some top creative talent (the guys who started Goodness Manufacturing). Which leads to reason two that a top agency might struggle: the stepping back of the founder. This has clearly affected Fallon, too, but from what I hear out of Austin, the stepping back of Roy Spence is the proximate cause of GSD&M’s struggles.

The third major reason that agencies hit the skids is the mix of ownership by the big four holding companies and getting bigger. The holding companies, being publicly held, need to squeeze revenue out of their agencies so, however much an agency might say they are about great creative work, once they are publicly owned they are really about making the quarterly numbers. A balance can be struck, but it’s not easy. And, as an agency grows, there are inevitably more layers and approvals and satisfied creative directors who have already accomplished things to drown out the creativity of the young guns. Inertia takes over and the agency gets institutionalized. It’s possible to fight this, as Saatchi has done lately with Tony Granger in New York and Harvey Marco in LA, but it’s also hard.

The final reason is luck.

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5 responses to “why do agencies hit the skids?

  1. Concerned Citizen

    Roy’s ambulatory adventures have pretty much nothing to do with GSD&M’s current predicament. Nor, incredibly, does the recent name change.

  2. From the “citizen” in your name, I assume that you’re a denizen of Idea City. If so (and even if not), I would love your thoughts on what is behind GSD&M’s current predicament. I would have expected that his pulling back from the day-to-day would have had an effect, but I could be wide of the mark on the real reason.

    Comment or email – dailybizblog (at) yahoo.

  3. This sounds soooooo familiar. check out FX’s series, MAD MEN, about life on Madison Avenue in the 1950s. Except for the clothing and the clientele, it’s all the same. There are no easy answers. It’s just, as Schumpeter claimed, capitalism’s creative destruction at work.

  4. Nice post. I’ve been thinking and writing a bit about the same thing. Being that I am in Austin, my thoughts have focused more on GSD&M, but your post has got me thinking about this on a wider scale. I hope you don;t mind, but I posted this morning in regards to your post as well as added Daily (Ad) Biz to my blog roll.

  5. I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well. But it was interesting!

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