How Ad Agencies Do Less With More

Robin Williams once said cocaine was God’s way of saying you make too much money. Something tells me he’d say the same about ad agencies’ current fascination with turning even the smallest task into a gigantic group project.

You’d think in these days of tight budgets, rapidly changing media and constant connectivity, agencies would not only be doing things faster but with fewer people. Especially after all the crazy mergers, consolidation and downsizing. Sadly though, in today’s ad world there’s just no project too small to involve way too many people.

concentrate write it down

Notice I used the word involve. That’s important because the number of people actually doing the work hasn’t really changed. Just the number of people involved. For example, if we were talking about a crew of city utility workers, these would be the six guys standing around the edge of the hole doing nothing but watching the two guys who are actually down in the hole digging. (And if they were agency-types, they’d be constantly emailing the poor saps while they dug.)

Naturally, these peripheral peeps insist their Too-Many-Meetings process be given a new name, so as to sound less stupid and more innovative I guess. Scrum seems to be the latest moniker they’ve latched onto, a surprisingly apt descriptor given the way workplace overthink can invade your personal space. As buzzwords go, scrum may soon prove to be the next crowdsourcing. And no wonder, considering it has a much better ring to it than the other name they were considering, Opening The Oven Door Every Other Minute To See If The Cookies Are Done.

I may be getting out of my element here, but I always thought one of the easiest ways for an agency to make money was to do more with less. Considering that people are an agency’s greatest expense, the fewer people you pay per task, the more money you have left over, no? Especially if your revenue comes from a fixed monthly fee.

Yet it seems like the goal in most agencies today is to require more people than ever to hold as many meetings as possible to accomplish what could just as easily happen in about half the time with 1/3 of the manpower. (With that 1/3 feeling much happier and vital and empowered and other stuff the Human Resources Dept. says we should care about along the way, too.)

Of course, I can hear the scrum-mers now: It’s all about collaboration! The wisdom of the crowd! The hive! Great ideas can come from anywhere, etc, etc.

Fine, great ideas are everywhere. So is gold and oil technically, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize we’re not all equally adept at finding it. And sure, collaboration is important, but at a certain point we’re simply getting in each others’ way.

So what say we all pick up our Scrum Participation Trophies then go back to our desks and spend some of this precious meeting time actually thinking instead?

Who knows, maybe some of us will actually get some work done.

(Thanks to Brian Morrissey @bmorrissey for pointing out the rise of scrum. So many buzzwords, so little time.)

About Wade Sturdivant

Creative Director/Copywriter at The Richards Group, Wade spent his formative years in Chicago (DDB, Leo Burnett) and has worked on accounts as diverse as BMW, Firestone, Bud Light, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s and the U.S. Army.


  1. Only place I’ve seen this “scrum” business pan out is when estimating the level of effort and best way to execute a development project. Otherwise, everyone get the hell out of my way. 🙂