How independents are forging a path for growth in challenging times

Justin Hind
By Justin Hind | 11 May 2023
Justin Hind

The global economy is continuing to tighten. That’s no secret. It’s also no secret that with a tightening economy comes shrinking growth. 

For agencies of all types, that can mean only one thing. The brands we partner with begin to look for efficiency across all areas of their business, including their relationships with their agency partners. 

Different, faster, better?

The independent agency landscape in Australia has exploded over the last two and a half years. These start-up businesses have accelerated their evolution to become powerhouses of creative, media, data and technological innovation to rival the networked agencies and to be honest they’re starting to leave them in their wake. 

They’re delivering at a scale nobody expected. There’s no shortage of examples of work that are delivering impressive results to clients at a faster speed to market without the operational and financial inefficiency that comes with some of the larger, legacy shops. 

The old idea that a holding company’s scale and network connection is the only path to growth for blue-chip local and global businesses has finally given way to the reality that the partnership, alignment, increased transparency and mutual value creation that independents offer can often be a different, faster and better solution for brands looking to materially shake things up.

But don’t take my word for it - all you have to do is look at the mega brands who’ve blown up that old myth to take control of their destiny. Brands including Aldi, eBay, Google, IAG, ANZ, Macquarie,  Meta and Uber, have all actively decided on an alternative path to success. 

Freedom + independence + focus = success

When you look at the independent agencies leading the charge, and importantly, the people leading them, it isn’t a shock to realise that the levels of spend and consumer reach and impact being housed in Australia’s independent scene is now truly impressive. 

From Special Group, Howatson + Co, Ryval Media, Shadow Boxer, Foxcatcher, Thinkerbell, BMEOF, AnalogFolk, The Hallway, Match and Wood, Activation Union, Akcelo and more, they’re all helmed by brilliant people who understand the value of innovation, transparency and the central ethos of partnership. 

Many of those founders came out of traditional networked agencies, where I suspect they were weighed down by bureaucracy, layers of middle management, red tape, excessive overheads and meaningless internal meetings that challenged free thinking and putting their clients' interest at the center point of their effort and energy. 

Freed by their independence and ability to focus their time on the things that make a difference to clients, they’re now able to stay ahead of the curve to provide clients with evolutionary work that drives compound growth for increasingly scrutinised budgets. 

They’ve also got the ability to invest ahead of the curve, create meaningful new capabilities, experiment across disciplines and most importantly create an agency offering for tomorrow, not one myopically focused on this quarter's results for their masters overseas. 

Every hour not spent internally focused for an independent, equates to time actively spent on solving their clients’ biggest challenges - something all agencies should aspire to achieve, no matter what size or shape of business they’re in. 

Winning in a challenging talent market

That approach is also seeing the independent agencies across the country win in an increasingly challenging talent market. 

Good minds and good hearts are a core part of creating a differentiated and sustainable business, and you truly feel that in the independents across the country. There’s real and unique cultures that are being built at these agencies, and those cultures are attracting the best talent - and clients - to build their businesses around. 

From meaningful performance programs, profit share and no-cost equity schemes, the independence enables them to provide real value to their team, that aligns everyone’s interests and that increasingly sets them apart in a cluttered and stayed marketplace. 

Overall, independents in Australia are an exponentially increasing force to be reckoned with. Their ability to focus on their clients, invest, experiment and innovate with new technologies and media, build cultures and deliver accountable results sets them apart. Remember if they’re not materially better and more competitive, then they don’t have a sustainable business. That alone sets their laser focus and operational cadence on creating value for their clients every single day.  

If it's time to seriously change the game, if it’s time for your brand to find a new alternative in challenging economic times, if it’s time for more transparency and partnership, then it's time to widen your agency consideration aperture and put an independent in the mix. I guarantee you’ll discover much more than you expected. 


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