Over at Ad Age, Matthew Creamer took a deep dive into the exodus of creative talent from the ad agency world. Creamer writes:
"Since the beginning of the year, a veritable Cannes jury worth of senior creative talent has shrugged off the leashes of big agency networks for their own start-ups or for creative pursuits outside the ad industry."
And he adds:
"Longtime agency watchers will say this kind of churn has always been part of agency life, but to dismiss the trend as part of some cycle is ignoring some key questions that agencies need to answer. After all, the pressure on these companies' business model is intense."
The pressure on the business model, of course, goes back a long way - about 30 years, when traditionally private ad agencies started selling themselves to public holding companies. I can remember sitting around a pool in suburban Connecticut in the late 80s chatting with a fellow I'd known since I was a boy. I'd grown-up to work in advertising. He'd grown up to work in investment banking.
Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (DFS) had been sold recently to Saatchi & Saatchi, which came after a merger or two with other agencies, Backer and Spielvogel and Compton. Or something likes that; I forget the order. I had worked at DFS, but moved on. My friend was explaining:
"You see," he said, "The people at these companies - these ad agencies - that have built them through the 50s and 60s and 70s, they want to retire, and they own more stock in the companies than the companies can afford to pay them. They have to sell." And the holding companies, of course, will have to keep buying.
For me, that conversation by the pool all those years ago has satisfactorily explained everything about the ad agency business since, including now, because it made it inevitable that the cycle would re-boot and the green shoots of numerous new agencies would begin to appear when big got too big, as big always does.
Many commenters to Matthew's article observe the canvas on which these ad agencies will create their work will be different and substantially more technical. Sure, I guess. Media is always evolving. The prior generation of creators started in print. Broadcast - very technical - made them rich and famous. They managed. There is no reason to think digital can't do the same for their heirs. In point of fact, as an ironical twist of fate, it may be - oh, heck, it will be - the rise of digital media, once seen as poison to ad agencies, that fertilizes a new generation Dusenberrys and Rineys.
That should be fun.