Here’s My Beef With Ad Agencies

But here’s the beef. So many agencies are convinced that they need to do these deep, months-long dives into the brand before they can even think about being creative. They want to run focus groups, conduct surveys and spend countless billable hours trying to “immerse” themselves.

Meanwhile, my team and I are already living and breathing this stuff every single day. We know our customers inside and out. We’ve done the research. We’ve got the insights. So, in a way, what I’m really paying an agency for is to not be immersed; it’s to bring an outsider’s perspective to the table.

But inevitably, no matter how detailed our brief is, agencies always seem to insist on this drawn-out “strategy” phase before any real work gets done.

And I get it—it’s part of their process, their revenue model. But as a CMO, it feels like I’m being held hostage. It’s the price of entry, and it’s a steep one. Because here’s the hard truth: I don’t want to outsource strategy. That’s not what I need from an agency.

If I’m coming to you, it’s because I’m looking for killer creative, not a regurgitation of the consumer insights I already have coming out of my ears.

The irony is, with so many tactical services like media buying, production and yes, even strategy being brought in-house, the one thing agencies have left to offer is their creativity. Their ability to concept big, bold ideas that move the needle. It’s their secret weapon. Or, at least, it should be.

But instead, amid all this talk about “integration” and “full-service offerings,” agencies seem to be losing sight of what makes them valuable in the first place. They’re getting bogged down in the weeds of data and analytics and, in the process, they’re letting their creative muscles atrophy.

Case in point?

When times get tough, the first thing many agencies do is cut their senior creatives to save on costs. But those are the people I’m actually hiring you for—the experienced visionaries and problem-solvers. The folks who know how to take all those data points and transform them into campaigns that make people feel something.

What the ad industry is doing today is backward. And it’s a shame.

But here’s the thing. As much as it pains me to see talented creatives getting the short end of the stick, I also think this moment presents a huge opportunity. It’s a chance for those senior leaders to strike out on their own, to build something new, better and more resilient.

To not just claim to be “partners,” but show up as true collaborators and co-conspirators. And to create the kind of work that many of my fellow CMOs, including myself, are desperately seeking. Work that is nimble, adaptable and unafraid to challenge the status quo.

Notice how I didn’t say I hope they create an agency. Because the truth is, I’m not sure they need to.

I know these creatives are out there. I’ve worked with a few of them and, because they are not an agency, they are more interested in making great work than chasing revenue or headlines. And when you find them, it’s magic.

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