Agencies rise and agencies fall.
Let’s start with the bad news. Barton F. Graf, the small indie agency in NYC, like Wexley School for Girls in Seattle (and other “hot shops” before it), is closing down.
The ad industry is prone to aggressive navel-gazing whenever there’s a major move (which is probably true of every industry, or at least creative ones). Unsurprisingly, the Graf news has produced a lot of the chatter about the state of independent agencies, the move from stable and lucrative agency-of-record relationships to project-based work, and the role for a creative-led agency in the modern ad world.
Obviously Barton F. Graf had its issues, otherwise, it wouldn’t be closing, but it’s a stretch to suggest this signals doom for all indie shops. Many are doing just fine, and still, others are thriving, thanks to the proliferation of project-based work and the availability of a large and growing pool of freelance talent.
Adweek too, did some pondering, or navel-gazing, as the case may be.
Barton F. Graf’s closure also raises the question of whether or not independent creative agencies, particularly smaller ones, will be able to grow and thrive in an environment where they’re continually expected to do more with less as margins continue to shrink.
The answer to this eternal question is: It depends. It depends on how resilient the agency owners are to change, and how willing and able they are to adapt when the time comes, and it will come.
It also depends on how much cash the agency has on hand and how fast they’re burning through it. When you have $10K a month in Manhattan rent, plus a handful or more salaries plus benefits, there are only so many client losses and new business pitches unwon that a small shop can withstand.
Now, Here’s An Entirely Different Story
Ad Age conducts the most important awards show in the business. Important to me, that is. It’s called the Small Agency of the Year Awards.
This year, Preacher in Austin won gold and was recognized as Small Agency of the Year in the American Southwest. Preacher recently collected its first Effie for the comical “BullSh*t Free Eggs” campaign for Vital Farms and landed its first Super Bowl spot in 2019 for Simplisafe.
Co-founder Seth Gaffney says Preacher’s momentum is fueled by an increased focus on using data in creative and a new will to say “no.” “You learn to value your own time, making sure you’re getting what you’re worth,” he explains. “That’s certainly a nice place to be in that we don’t take for granted.”
Aside from the regional winners, Ad Age also names national winners by size. As someone who runs a one-person agency with the help of key contractors, I appreciate that there’s a category for agencies with 1-10 people. I’ve never entered the competition, but it’s an award that I would value, should Bonehook ever do the things needed to win it.
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