AI won't kill big agencies, clients will

Rodd Chant
By Rodd Chant | 10 April 2024
Rodd Chant.

As reported in countless articles in many an industry trade publication, many, if not all, major agencies are laying off staff, especially senior creative staff. 

Ad agencies primarily have one stock-in-trade - ads. And who creates those ads? Creative people. 

However, creative people come in varying levels of experience. Those just starting have a lot to learn. Those on the middle rungs of the creative career ladder have a few years of experience but not enough to lead an entire creative department. 

It’s the most senior creative people who use their years of experience to help those ascending the ladder. 

So if you remove the senior talent, who would guide and mentor the less experienced creative staff? The CEO? The CFO? Those Cs don’t stand for Creative. 

The agencies that erase the more senior talent from their spreadsheets are setting themselves up for failure. 

They are also creating more new competitors. Many senior talent who were either laid off or left due to dissatisfaction with the agency system are setting up micro-agencies, offering clients more hands-on direct contact with senior people who are creating the work and who have enough experience to work one-to-one with clients. 

Recently, Stephanie McCarty, CMO at Taylor Morrison, has been posting on LinkedIn about her thoughts on agencies, and she has generated a lot of discussion. 

Here are a few choice edited snippets, I highly recommend looking her up and reading her posts in full. 

“Every time I work with a new agency, I get so unbelievably frustrated. The big ad agencies are laying off a large number of their staff. The current agency model is broken.” 

“So, the most valuable agencies for me are the ones that focus on creativity and ideas. But the other thing I’ve learned is that, unlike 10+ years ago, it’s becoming less common to find them in an ad agency.” 

“Meanwhile, agencies are experiencing a full-on identity crisis. Clients like me are losing faith." 

"Apparently, the advertising industry is a little ageist. I hear it has something to do with their salaries, but I’d make a bet that most clients want those experts and would be willing to pay for them.” 

Clients are not stupid but agencies who think they can deliver great creative advertising without experienced people are treating their clients as such. 

So if many big agencies are in trouble, what’s in store for the small and independent agencies? Opportunity.  

Smart clients want the best creative solutions for their brands.  

Where those ideas come from is not that important. You don’t need a multi-level office to come up with great creative work. All you need is a pad and pen, a laptop, an internet connection, and a brain that has done it all before. 

Every great creative agency started as just a few people sitting around in a room coming up with ideas. It now seems more may start doing that. 

Rodd Chant, Independent Creative Director working with agencies and directly with brands.

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