The agency is dead, long live the agency
And I will tell you why.
I will also suggest that this isn’t because of the Pandemic. It’s merely accelerated a change that was long overdue.
It was back in 2017, when I left my 20 year tenure as strategic director of a global design agency, that I began to think there must be a better way of working in the creative industry.
Agencies of every size and scale, across design and advertising and beyond, had fallen into certain ways of working that were conflicting with the needs of almost everyone involved. Inflated budgets, inconsistent teams, expensive head offices and ‘my way or the highway’ creative standoffs meant that the client never really got what they deserved.
In a nutshell, it felt like we had lost the human element of design and it had become far too commercial.
Working as a freelancer I realised just how widespread these issues really were. I found the reality of working in this way very unfulfilling, with little sense of being a true part of the project team. I also saw first hand how many people within each agency were in fact freelancing themselves (often unbeknown to the client). It just didn’t feel transparent and more and more I felt that the industry needed to change.
Meanwhile, my co-founder and partner Matt was working client side as Transformation Director for a large UK retailer. He would return from London each day with yet another tale of how disillusioned he was with the work he was commissioning with agencies and consultancies. He once shared an analogy that I absolutely loved:
“Consultants ask to borrow my watch to tell me the time, they charge me for it, then they steal my watch.”
His biggest challenge was always about people. He would commission a project and meet a very credible senior team, only to never see them ever again once the contracts were signed and the project was underway. These stories would really resonate with me, as anyone who has worked in an agency will be familiar with the back peddling going on behind the scenes as agencies try to ensure the team that the client has bought in to is available to work on the project. Very often they needed to call in freelancers.
It was on a much needed holiday in Ibiza that we finally had time to reflect together and to see the parallels in our combined experiences. It was then that we decided there was a genuine opportunity to create a design consultancy of our own, but to do so in a very different way.
I would love to tell you that we came up with the name of The Future Collective on a mountain top or in a dynamic strategy planning meeting. If we’re being completely honest, we were unloading the dishwasher! Matt suggested our name should have the word ‘future’ in the title and I told him I’ve always loved the word ‘Collective’. A couple of hours later The Future Collective was registered and the domain name was ours.
One of the first decisions we made, and definitely the most important one, was that we would never have a head office. Firstly, because we didn’t want geography to dictate the talent pool available. And also because we didn’t want to pass this overhead on to our clients.
The second was that we would employ independent freelancers rather than permanent members of staff. That way we could ensure we could place the very best talent around a given creative brief and eliminate the traditional back-pedalling. Providing the continuity we know clients crave, and the agility that is often beyond the capabilities of a traditional agency.
Our third decision was about our leadership principles. In casting the people for our tight-knit community in the Collective there was no space for ego’s and ‘rock star’ creatives. We searched for kindred spirits and a meeting of like minds, because teamwork and collaboration is everything.
It was also a very personal ambition to create an environment where creativity would flourish. This meant there would be no traditional 9–5, because creatives do their best work in their own space, in their own time.
Our fourth was a promise to ourselves that the glass-ceiling would never exist. We would work on a flat horizontal structure that empowers people to do their very best work. We still haven’t named Matt as the Managing Director because he is passionate about female leadership and would prefer me to assume the role!
Our fifth was aligned to better design — in every sense of the word. This meant that we had to be a B Corporation and put purpose over profit.
All of these decisions have led us to create a totally transparent model that offers a more fulfilling way for freelancers to work with one another and collaborate with our clients.
The one thing we never underestimate is the commercial value this delivers:
“World-class talent that no one agency could afford to retain, handpicked to create a bespoke team that is perfectly placed to respond to your brief.”
It’s our heartfelt belief that design has an invaluable role to play in creating our new future and this alternative agency model is perfectly placed to meet the needs of clients today.
Media Contact Details
Georgia Lambert, The Future Collective
London, United Kingdom