And The Gravity Shifts Back To Manhattan

Alex bailed (and his name is on the door). Jeff Benjamin, a partner in the agency, bailed. Now, according to Ad Age, two more high profile staffers–Ari Merkin and Dave Rolfe–have bailed on Crispin Porter & Bogusky, which until recently was the hottest agency in all the land.

I have no idea what’s driving these departures. Maybe people need new challenges. I know I do. But what’s ailing Crispin is not my concern here. I’m more interested in the difficulty any agency, or any company in any industry has remaining on top. The Boston Celtics used to win the NBA title every year, for instance, but that stopped. Clearly, there are countless examples of once dominant companies falling to the wayside. IBM was BIG BLUE and owned Silicon Valley once. Then some upstart longhairs had an idea and the talent to pursue it.

In Adlandia, it seems there’s a real danger in getting too big. Because big means big brands with big budgets and even bigger expectations. Too often that results in long hours, internal conflicts, staffing challenges and at the end of the day a creative product that’s been unduly diluted.

Does that mean you should spend your advertising career working in boutiques? Possibly. It depends on what your priorities are and where you feel most at home. You can pursue the work, the money, or you can go home at 5:00 every day. If you’re super lucky, you might even achieve two of those three, but according to Sally Hogshead you will not achieve all three.

Jeff Benjamin and Dave Rolfe, interestingly, have decamped for JWT and BBDO in New York City, respectively. That is, they left the cozy confines of Boulder, Colorado for the chaos and thrill of Manhattan. Their new agencies have new life, but they also have history. BBDO and JWT have found a way to survive via continual reinvention and their ability to attract and pay for top talent.

Maybe BBDO and JWT were once too big, too fast, as well. An agency like Crispin, that started small in Miami and grew into something else entirely in the matter of a decade plus, is still fitting into its big boy clothes. And Crispin remains the outsider, like Wieden. Wieden is independently-owned. Crispin is owned by MDC Partners, but MDC itself is an outsider, when compared to WPP or Omnicom. It’s fun to be the outsider, but I imagine being the insider also has merits.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.