The power of the independent agency

12 July 2022
Simon Rush

Simon Rush, Principal at JOY

After 20 years of JOY, I don’t know that we have ever won a piece of business purely because we are an independent agency. I do know that we should have. I also know that the reason that we do win (and retain) business is due to the behaviours and values that are enabled by our independence.

We all love to follow the trials and tribulations of big-name agency holding groups – if there’s a couple of 800lb gorillas in the room, it’s probably a good idea to pay attention to them first. But when it comes to servicing clients, independence definitely has its benefits. This is an important factor that is all too often overlooked and underweighted by those making decisions and recommendations during the pitch processes.

For me, the key advantage is that independence has always meant freedom. This manifests in many positive ways.

There’s the obvious: independent agencies don’t have to make business decisions according to a set of arbitrary financial guidelines set by a management accountant in London, New York, Tokyo or Paris. It is difficult to underestimate just how compromising it must be to run an agency that is primarily governed by compliance with HQ, and an all-consuming quest for revenue extraction. Decision-making becomes by nature, conflicted and constrained.

Freedom means the ability to choose to make entrepreneurial hires, to reinvest profit in growth, to chase the clients that an agency really wants to work with. This makes it easier (without the need for approval) for the agency to be reinvented and shift its direction whenever there is a better and more efficient path to take.

But, more importantly, freedom gives independent agencies license to operate in a way that will most benefit their clients and their people – a logical flow on from the beliefs of how communications should work.

For clients, this means being able to work with an agency that is not just capable of pivoting at a moment’s notice (without having to ask permission) but is actively seeking for better ways to do your work

When it comes the account servicing basics, freedom brings many benefits. Fewer layers of hierarchy mean faster delivery, a more personal approach, and more transparency. Independents tend to have a flatter structure, with fewer juniors being assigned to client work. Not being tied to holding company rules means more flexibility in resource allocation, giving greater opportunities to devote a client’s budget to places that will drive the best results.

Freedom also opens the door for more creativity – both in terms of thinking, but also in terms of exploration. Freedom of thought means there’s more space for creativity when an agency is not bound by the rigid guidelines, rules, hierarchies and politics of a large holding group. It means being able to take risks, to look outside the narrow silo you operate in and have a broader perspective. As independents, there are no rules for where our thinking can take us, we can focus on unique ideas and unfiltered thinking.

The freedom to act independently also creates an ideal environment for talent to flourish. New ideas can more easily take hold. Individuals can hone their skills across a wide range of crafts. Real friendships and relationships can be built through ongoing collaboration. There’s no coincidence that the top three agencies in the AFR Best Places to Work 2022 list for the media and marketing category are all independents.

So, long live Australia’s independents – integral to the fabric of our marketing ecosystem and working reminders of the value of freedom.


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