The ‘Big Agency’ Conundrum

Having been a ‘big agency’ guy for over 20 years across several big agencies (and a few middle-rung ones too), I am aware of a growing number of worthy clients who now are plain disillusioned and actually fed-up of those ‘big agencies’ in their present avatar, a striking antithesis to the earlier years of advertising when they were famous for adding immense value to brands. Agency offices in big cities used to be led (by example) by brilliant individuals, assertive minds who did not need the agency’s stamp on their identity, as they were brands unto themselves. Communication experts who were always in sync with the consumer pulse and spent enough time to whet it. The result used to be memorable and fresh work each time. Not anymore. The reasons evidently are the absence of such minds and such convictions today. Disillusioned by office politics, sidetracked by lobbies and frustrated by an ever-increasing cross-section of present day client Marcomm teams who insist they understand the creative language better, those virtuosos of the communication business have largely gone missing. Set up their own studios, turned into full-time writers, theatre artists, photographers, college faculty members and the like.

From a first-hand experience primarily of the last 10 years when the business has gone awry, with Branch Heads quivering and shaking in their boots when facing senior-level clients due to their sheer lack of calibre, I wish to give an account of what happens to a Brief when it lands in the ornate spaces of a ‘big agency’ office:

For the first few days, creative team(s) will be scared to pick it up, depending upon the in-house reputation of the client and thereby the understanding and commitment it will require from the working team. So the Brief will adequately get tossed around. The guys however will always pretend to show the client quite the other side of this face at each work-in-progress meeting or follow-ups on call or virtual interactions. Well, show business has always been a part of ad business, for reasons good and bad.

If it’s a film, the ECD will more often than not, inadvertently manage to hand it to his/her favourite writer. Regardless of the acumen or demand of the subject or knowledge of the category. A film carries more weight in these times too, the tradeoff very much in favour of the scriptwriter’s CV.

The internal briefing is further riddled by the huge crevasse between the Servicing & Creative which will widen just a little bit more, accompanied by a fiery clash of egos and unacceptance of ideas and solutions, leaving an exasperated Servicing & Planning team to throw in the towel, and surrender to the whims and ‘I have something’ sentiment of the Creative Head. All in the interest (or the dread) of the looming deadline, whose monstrosity keeps getting bigger with each passing day. Logic & Insight be damned. On a different note, I seriously believe that Servicing in Advertising has lost whatever it stood for and for the industry to breathe new, the function has to get demolished at the earliest possible. I must and will elaborate on this in another write-up.

A host of other issues will play along, such as requests for extended timelines, incomplete deliverables “we have only carried the thought to today’s meeting“, and a hyper-inflated project cost proposal. The cost of making an ad film today is super low compared to the yester years due to the digital transformation, yet ‘big agencies’ overcharge clients based on their relationship and client propensity to pay. Huge buffers are pre-loaded on the third party costs & submitted to client on the back of a healthy relationship.

OKAY, LET’S TALK SOLUTIONS. How niche, specialist units run by talented, experienced and confident professionals are on the upswing in all developed markets. I shall dive into details in the next one I write.

Checking the mandatories as usual before signing off. The important one is that the views above are my own, derived from professional experience and not intended to malign any institution or individual whatsoever.


REPERTOIRE CONSULTING AND PRODUCTION LLC is Dubai’s renowned Brand Management & Consulting, Production, Events and Activation company. Offering a 360 degree brand stewardship across both Offline and Online domains, with the best of strategic and creative solutions. For over a decade, REPERTOIRE has conceived and curated showpiece music and other entertainment properties for brands, attuned to their markets, target audiences and brand/business goals, coupled with professional data mining and sharp result analysis. Such as research-based work for Nissan, managing the ‘Passion for Music’ tab for Emirates NBD Bank, Design Logic & execution for a host of other brands.
Today as we move forward in a world of communication skewed towards Digital Marketing and virtual platforms, the agency is expertly equipped to create refreshing and memorable brand stories. There is extensive digital work being done for Medibird Diagnostics & Steelbird India over the past 2 years. Each day we do an optimum mix of brand & product communication, including posts, videos, gifs, films, landing pages, retarget marketing content et al.
WE ARE THE ANTITHESIS OF THE ARCHETYPICAL ‘BIG AGENCY’.  Although our people come with decades of experience on big brands – handpicked individuals who have the passion, integrity, talent and experience to make a positive difference to your brand communication qualitatively, while keeping delivery timelines sacrosanct and bending the cost hugely to your advantage.
Bring it on!