Being a great creative won’t make you a great agency owner. Or 10 reasons why creative shops fail.

If I had a nickle for everytime a creative agency failed in this town. Then I wouldn’t need to be in a creative business.

But I am in the creative business and am currently on my third start up of my own and have also worked at two other start up creative shops. So I think I have a little perspective on failure and success.

The first two I walked away from to take fulltime positions for more money than I could make myself – pretty lame, I know. But I’ve got kids to feed. We had clients and were producing nice work but it just wasn’t enough.

Now I’m a little older, have a little more perspective and am now in the video production business. So here are some things I learned the hard way over the years.

1) Client don’t have taste. Taste is what they pay you for but not why they hire you. They hire you because they trust you. Think of hiring a lawyer, you never think, “wow, she writes beautiful law”, you hire her because she’s effective and you trust her.

2) Being sold creative is kinda like being sold snake oil. Refer to item 1. They don’t have taste, so when you’re selling them something they likely don’t get.

3) The exception is taken as the rule. There are clients that do get creative and buy it all the time. Nike, for example. Also, your client will sometimes really get an idea and pat you on the back and tell you how much they love it. Unfortunately, this also is the exception. Most of the time, they’re judging the agency success with a spread sheet and there is no column for creativity.

4) The world needs another creative driven shop. There’s always a need for a shop that gets results. For clients, creative is merely a byproduct of their larger job of marketing their product. Sure the world would feel better to us, with more agencies doing great work, but the people holding the purse strings really don’t care.

5) Creative pitches warp our thinking about what clients really want. Working as a creative or a creative director even, you tend to get this warped perspective from participating in creative pitches that the the work is the most important thing. Sorry it’s not. I’ve walked out of many, many pitches hearing from the horses mouth that they “loved the work” it “was the best they’d seen” only to find out weeks later they’d picked another agency even though they “loved the work.” And also have been picked as the agency only to completely redo the work to something much worse than what “won the pitch.”

6) Clients spend maybe 1% of their day thinking about creative. Most of their day is spent dealing with personell, projects that have nothing to do with you, meetings, conference calls, their boss, their kids issues, the dentist, P&L reports, presentations to their sales people and lunch. Creative ranks well below all of it.

7) Creative skills have little to do with the day to day of running a business. A friend who owns a very successful agency who was once a creative director at several shops that would make you envious, told be that he felt like day one starting his company was day one of a new career. He’s right, your judgement about the work is still very relevant but that’s about it. More important are relationship sales skills and budgeting.

8) Creatives are trained to value the wrong things for starting a business. In order to get hired for their next job, a creative is judged by how many awards they’ve garnered and where they used to work. I’m sorry, but GS&P or W&K or even Droga5 on your CV will mean about as much to a CMO as your duffle full of Lions. Sure there are exceptions, refer to number 3.

9) Creatives are perceived as immature. We’re all big babies in need of a sitter to get anything done. It doesn’t help that every time a agency president gives an agency tour, they stop by the rumpus room to watch the creatives play foosball in their ironic t-shirts and skateboard sneakers. Would you trust this gang with your 10 million dollar marketing budget? Yes, this even applies to you, EVP CCO types. You just happen to be the head clown.

10) Clients don’t trust agency people. And creatives are the epitome of agency people. We dress whacky, have hip haircuts and designer jeans. But the guy head of account management, he went to business school and speaks spreadsheet and business acronyms with the best of them. Who would you trust?

Posted on: December 14, 2012, by :