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.

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