Dear creative agency, i love you, but i’m still leaving you.
I spent a long time working with you.
Your dynamism, creativity, young and motivated teams, all made you a unique and inspiring place to be. You gave me so many joyful moments and outright laughter. But there were doubts as well, and real struggle.
But, above all, I learned from you what it meant to be free, to express yourself, and to create.
So, here we are.
Perhaps it’s me, perhaps it’s you.
I would have loved to spend a bit more time with you, but it’s become too complicated to be a Designer with you.
You’ve lost your way
You don’t know who you are any more.
Not what you’re doing, or for who you’re doing it.
Communications? Marketing? Customer engagement? Generating a clear ROI?
The digital tsunami has swept away your old certainties in a few short years. Everything moves faster; it’s simply more complicated than ever.
So you always big yourself up and claim that you can do it all: design, advertising, PR, CRM, eCommerce, innovation… even better, you’ve become a “digital transformation specialist” even though you’ve never really gotten your own house in order.
In the meantime, you have to eat, after all, and that means that any project is fair game, even if it confuses the way your expertise is understood in the meantime.
“-Is that so? WebSuper across town, they do advertising don’t they?
- I think so. They do a little bit of everything.
- Oh, OK then…”
You ride the wave of the latest buzzwords and trends, trying in train to show anyone who wants to listen that you are in the thick of the action, showing the latest awards you’ve won to prove that it’s true. But if you scrape away the veneer, you quickly recognize that it’s often no more than window dressing designed to camouflage the fact that you are struggling to rethink your model.
Your business model is on the wrong course
The frantic race for revenue belies a deeper crisis, that of your business model. With the digital world, you spent years trying to reproduce the model that you lived off during the golden age of advertising, but you were quickly pushed out by countless different actors, from the largest to the smallest. Between the major consultancies who often offer much more relevant visions of what innovation looks like, and the boutique expert studios, with much lower overheads, competition is everywhere: they don’t watch the clock or bill by the other, you can find them on the other side of the world or around the corner, in the provinces, in the form of freelancers and other self-employed specialists.
You’re being abused
Sometimes you do manage to stop and think about the fundamentals, and change the way you work, but clients’ urgent demands drown out any opportunity for deep thinking. A breathless, exhausting race where there are no holds barred, where even crazy price cutting is not out of the question.
“- 20k€ to create an eCommerce site?
- Sure, why not? We’ll take it: it’ll be a foot in the door with the client for other projects.”
But of course, when you sell yourself short, you open the door to low-cost operations and give in to the vicious circle of poverty wages that gradually sets in. Worse, when you try to enforce “normal” rates, the client cannot understand the sudden price rise, and won’t hesitate to put you out to tender to keep costs even lower.
By accepting any and all working conditions that your client imposes, you undermine your own position. Meanwhile, the marketing and communications teams take advantage to demand more and more, while paying less and less. The value of your expertise is often marginalized and you often struggle to justify your ideas or the time spent creating such and such a project. This power relationship has a cost, which is passed on to your staff, who pay on a daily basis in the form of working at night, unpleasant meetings, and continual frustrations. These are not working conditions that encourage creativity, let alone encouraging the best staff to remain loyal.
Your staff are exhausted
In addition, you give the brush off to your brightest and best, offering them… not much, actually, apart from vague promises or raises “when things are better.” Unfortunately, you know how difficult it is to keep them for the long time, because, apart from the stingy package, they often have to work in different conditions, and, above all, they have to work with people who sap their motivation on a daily basis:
Bagged down by their heritage and coming from an earlier, simpler time when a mere idea was enough to earn money, they’re often highly visible and make lots of noise. They’ll tell anyone who will listen about their latest cocktail party at Google’s offices, or boast fiercely about the number of retweets for their vent about the latest GoT. However, when they’re needed to do anything, even something as meager as writing a single slide for a client presentation, they’re nowhere to be found. Of course, they make promises, but avoid taking anything on directly so that they can delegate, more or less discreetly, only reappearing on the big day to claim credit for the work. A classic.
“However, when they’re needed to do anything, even something as meager as writing a single slide for a client presentation, they’re nowhere to be found.”
The digital less:
They work in an environment where the web is everywhere, but they struggle to use any online tools. Creating a clear, powerful Excel spreadsheet takes them five times longer than the rest of the team. The same goes for a PowerPoint presentation, with results that often hurt the eyes: four different, copy-pasted design templates, misaligned text boxes, and default or very poorly chosen colors. The digital-less become even more problematic for you when they have to manage one of your teams, because the ability to use digital tools is a basic element needed for Millennials to respect them.
What can you do about them?
Undoubtedly, there is lots that can be done.
All you have to do is revise the organizational structure, methodologies, tools, thinking spaces, and staff skills. Lots that can be done, indeed.
But transformation has to start from the inside: transforming yourself before seeking to help others on their transformation.
Don’t let yourself be bullied by clients who are as clueless as you. The entire client relationship needs to change, starting with no longer accepting budget attribution conditions and the famous tender processes that require immense investments with the sole aim and vague promise of winning new business. In the case of user experience design, there’s no longer any such thing as the “wow factor” but providing an elegant, effective solution to a client problem, which implies long term engagement with the projects that you create.
Like many, I’ve tried.
I’ve put forward suggestions and taken action. For a long time.
But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction: and, if you are open to innovation and novelty, you’re not the type of person who manages to apply yourself consistently. Because, unfortunately, no school — not even business school — teaches you how to pivot, whereas this is the key ability for success in this era of massive change.
“Because, unfortunately, no school — not even business school — teaches you how to pivot ”
I wish you a fair and following wind, and every success in this new era: I know that I’ll always be keeping an eye out for you, and that your wonderful stories will always resonate with me.
French version :