During the last decade I've worked for a few marketing agencies and collaborated with hundreds of different agencies all over the world. Luckily, I've witnessed some exceptions to the rule, but to generalize and aggravate, here are five reasons why working at a marketing agency is a bad idea.
1. The agency scene is still dominated by white, middle-aged men
This is a weird industry where the funny, smart and overly confident people get appraisal for their work. Many agency heads have bigger egos than Kanye. Power is blinding, I've even seen agency heads who believe they have the right to intervene in their employees private life, as if that were the norm.
And let's face it, middle aged men are not the first ones to spot the most silent signals or admit that they might be wrong. That alone helps remind me that the boss of my dreams is a Scandinavian woman because she is capable of adaptation and admitting her faults.
As sooner or later I'll become a middle-aged, white male too, I often play with the idea of leaving the agency industry.
2. The industry is aggressive and bloodthirsty
Imagine an industry where you and your colleagues are constantly getting ready for battles. Your aim is to to crush the opponents. You're putting together the very best of your troops, ready to take a hit and willing to loose a few good men. The warlords sketch out strategies of hitting the opponent's weak spot from an ivory tower and the fighters don't have enough time to recover from the first battle before you need to participate in the next one. It's nothing personal, it's business. As long as we keep on winning.
Targets, launches, three letter acronyms, penetration and pitches. Even the lingo in the industry is aggressive and full of military metaphors.
The world of agencies is run too much by dosing dopamine, accomplishing goals. Every time we see a finish line, cross something off our to-do list, win a new client, execute a campaign or see movement toward our goals- we get that shot of dopamine.
But there's a more powerful motivator of behavior. Taking pride in your work and getting recognition from who you value will get you that shot of serotonin that boosts our shared joy.
We all should listen to what Simon says and approach our work differently, from the top to rhw bottom of the organization and vice versa.
3. What works at the moment, sells at the moment
Imagine if there was a city where none of the buildings were ever deconstructed and then rebuilt from scratch. A city where the buildings were eternally renovated just enough to meet the requirements of the market.
Imagine DJ who only plays the top hits of the day. Logically, that DJ should be the hottest DJ in the town, right?
To quote my good friend, DJ Skeme Richards, from the world famous Rock Steady Crew:
"give people a little bit of what they want, and a lot of what they need."
Unfortunately that's not how the majority players in the agency scene work. There's too much focus on capitalizing the market, and not enough on educating it! That's not a good place to work at for idealists and I think what's why the agencies are losing and failing to attract the best of young talent.
4. Average seems to be enough
There are too many people who settle for the good enough, and not enough people who hate the average.
The main reason why people hate it when, the Swedish professional footballer, Zlatan Ibrahimović acts like Zlatan, is that Zlatan is Zlatan...meaning he hates mediocre performance. That's why people think he's being arrogant and difficult, he just probably looks at the world in a very different way from the rest and eventually wants to up the game of the whole team.
Thus we need more agencies that are as hated as Zlatan.
In football the game itself determines the winners. When in the marketing industry, the team that pleases the referee wins. But the referees makes mistakes too, the game itself doesn't.
We shouldn't let average become a norm in the marketing agency scene.
5. They don't want you to work for them
Almost all agencies have showy websites but the majority of them are actually bulk, all the same. No risky business here. There's always a section on the page called careers. They boast how they want to hire the best of the best and encourage candidates to apply. Then you apply and too often never hear anything from them. They might even invite you to an interview and after that you'll never hear anything from them again. It's a scheme that seems full of big dreams and promises when in actuality it's a lot false hope and failed communication. I guess they are too busy capitalizing the market.
Business before the people, right?
Like DJ Khaled would say:
"They don't want you to work for them!"
If you dream of building or investing in an agency that brings something new and meaningful to the table, I hope you pay attention to these five things. If you're one the those "Know it all, been in the business for a long time, kid" -type of agency heads, keep on doing what you do.
As I said before, I will one day be a middle aged white man and I often play with the idea of leaving the marketing agency industry. I guess the reason why I still work in this industry, despite all these things, is because I love it more than I hate it and until that is no longer the case, I will continue to strive to be more than mediocre, think different and look at this industry as more than just a war I can win.
I think it's about time for us to start building and stop renovating. Don't you?