Steely Dan And The Advertising Agency Of The Future

Steely Dan – A Potential Advertising Agency Of The Future Template

Two bits of background before I get to an example of a Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame rock band that offers an idea for how to build and run the advertising agency of the future.

1. This post follows my September 3 post, “The Advertising Agency of The Future”, which in 2 weeks has been read by over 500 visitors. In the post, I briefly discuss the need for agencies to consider a smaller, more specialized and freelance-based approach to the reduction of advertising agency of record opportunities – i.e. more project work and less long-term relationships.

Bye Bye AOR. Agencies are already seeing an uptick in requests for shorter, specialized projects. From Digiday, “according to a survey released in January from development firm RSW/US, 35 percent of 115 agencies surveyed said a majority of their assignments are now project-based, while 16 percent said over 80 percent of their work is now project-based.” What might a project-based agency look like? I see fewer full-time employees; smaller tactical teams; use of a well managed freelance system…

2. Who is Steely Dan? A bit of explanation for the under 40 crowd (or, the folks whose parents didn’t play Steely Dan in the house). From Wikipedia…

Steely Dan is an American rock band founded in 1972 by core members Walter Becker (guitars, bass, backing vocals) and Donald Fagen (keyboards, lead vocals). Blending elements of jazz, traditional pop, R&B and sophisticated studio production with cryptic and ironic lyrics, the band enjoyed critical and commercial success starting from the early 1970s until breaking up in 1981. Throughout their career, the duo recorded with a revolving cast of session musicians and in 1974 retired from live performances to become a studio-only band. Rolling Stone has called them “the perfect musical antiheroes for the Seventies”.

My Point – Freelance

Watch the video below. It demonstrates what might be a system for your agency. A system with fewer FTE’s and heightened dexterity.

A key point about Becker and Fagen, the band’s two primary members, as mentioned here from Wikipedia, is that the band used a wide range of the best studio musicians to record their music (“Throughout their career, the duo recorded with a revolving cast of session musicians”).

The point: the band was simply two brilliant guys that wrote the music and played bass and keyboard. They hired different, totally killer musicians (like Wayne Shorter) to play on each song based on the musician’s own style – a style that fit the individual compositions.

In the case of Steely Dan, freelance worked. It worked because Becker and Fagen were highly creative perfectionists, knew how to manage creative egos and the individual musicians wanted to work with the band. As I said earlier, watch the video.


Nike & Kaepernick

Nike & Kaepernick – more thoughts required? Of course not. But… our soldiers fight to maintain our right to protest. To fight against a protest that you don’t think is right, is wrong. Plus, one looks like an idiot shoving Nikes into the family BBQ.

Plus – plus, this all makes for some seriously powerful advertising aimed at, you-you know this, the people that actually buy Nikes. Not old white dudes like me. Though, I still wear the Nikes that my Nike client gave me. And, my Nike shares are up.

Need more? 

The Advertising Agency Of The Future

The Advertising Agency Of The Future – Needs Some Work

What is the advertising agency of the future? It probably isn’t a full-service agency. Unless…  read on.

My first job in advertising was at Dancer Fitzgerald & Sample. Back in the 1980’s, DFS was New York’s largest advertising agency. We were sweetly based in the iconic Chrysler Building – near martinis. At that time, we did not spend lots of gray matter thinking about the the advertising agency of the future because we were making wowzer money via the 15% commission on media and 16.5% on production. With clients like General Mills, P&G, RJR Nabisco, Sara Lee, Northwest Airlines, HP, and Toyota, we were not too concerned about reinvention. To give you an idea of the economics, Northwest spent $60 million, revenues were $9 million and profits were $6 million.

Today advertising is a radically different business and ad agencies need to be thinking about how to be positioned for a future where multi-year AOR clients; 15% media commissions; three primary media types (TV, print, radio); a positive network effect and loyalty are in the past.

Not to get too down, but today the advertising world is about one-off project work; crazy price consciousness; competition from all sides (large consultancies, in-house agencies and your ex-Creative Director who does just fine as a freelancer) and the rush to automation.

To survive, your agency better be thinking about an evolving future. Like will your agency be an advertising agency of the future? Like, what will you look like in 12 months? Like, is there life for you after advertising? Um, that’s a different post I’ll soon get to.

Just For Laughs… WPP Is Always Good For One

Here are two quotes from Mark Read, the new CEO of WPP, that prove the brilliance of some ad agency leaders.

First, really, ya think:

“Our industry is going through a period of structural change, not structural decline, and if we embrace the change we can look ahead to an exciting and successful future.”

Second, this should instill the idea of partnership and cost control in the minds of clients Like Ford which just shifted some WPP business to W+K:

“Colleagues say Mr. Read is exacting. A wine connoisseur, Mr. Read is known for bringing his own bottle to social events in case the wine being served isn’t up to scratch, they say.”

WTF? A bit of history. From 2008 The New York Times:

Nonetheless, secretly reserving a wine for oneself while serving something else to the guests violates numerous rules of etiquette. Not that it’s uncommon. The most famous such anecdote comes from “The Final Days’’ by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in which Richard Nixon is depicted entertaining Congressmen on the Presidential yacht Sequoia, serving them a modest Bordeaux with their dinner of tenderloin while the stewards poured Nixon Margaux 1966, the bottle wrapped in a napkin to conceal the label. Tricky, Dick! 

Tricky Mark.

Bummed Out?

Look, for many agencies, it is kinda fucked up out there. As the famous Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times”. But, but, there are still agencies that grow and make bucks. You can too.

So, in preparation for this blog post – yes, it is ultimately about how to position your agency for the future – I read a bunch of articles on “the advertising agency of the future.” Not too surprising, this is a hot topic. Not too much vision, but a hot topic nonetheless.

Interesting (as in Uh Oh) the first page of Google has articles on the future from traditional-agency killers like Deloitte, Accenture, Adobe, (an Adobe site). There is even a conference called The Future Of Advertising.

It isn’t until Google’s page 2 that industry types like AdAge, The Drum, and the ANA get to chime in.

I stopped trying to find an advertising agency perspective delivered via this search term by the time I got to page 4. Do the big guys (even WPP, Publicis, Omnicom, etc.) not want to discuss the future?  Read More »

Summer Viewing: Go To Manchester City

Got Some Time Off?

If so, head over to Amazon Prime and watch the  All Or Nothing series that covers the 2017-18 season of the Premier League champion Manchester City.

This really well shot and edited show covers the personalities of the world’s best football players, their brilliant coach, a billion dollar funded and run organization and lots of fun and decent drama too.

You do not need to be a fan to dig this!



Need An Advertising Laugh?

I Know You Need A Laugh. This from Canada.

Once again, Canada’s John St. Advertising (probably the best video using ad agency) delivers intelligent, brand-building humor. This time for a funeral client.

While so many advertising people dwell in the land of data, we are once again reminded that a brilliant, funny, insight-driven ad drives attention, interest and sales.