The problem with agencies
2 min read

The problem with agencies

Why I've decided to stop working with agencies.
The problem with agencies

Since leaving my previous job I've been reflecting on how I performed and where I could improve. One specific event keeps nagging me.

We were working with an agency to create videos for a campaign. The pitching stage went well, we liked the ideas they had. Yet as things began to get produced, a familiar sinking feeling came back: their work felt rushed, half cooked.

It didn't feel like they'd properly thought things through. Not properly checked if the messaging made sense and was logical.

It constantly felt like we were on a clock. The agency kept moving their own deadlines forward and ours back.

What came out in the end was good enough. But is 'good enough', good enough...?

"If you want it done, Go. If not, Send."

No one will care about your project as much as you do.

I know I can be naive because I often take people at face value. Agencies will promise the best product, but what is delivered rarely meets expectations.

What nags at me is that I've experienced this over and over again, yet always think "it'll be different this time."

It never is. And that's because of the the principal-agent problem.

The principal is the owner, the agent is the employee.

You'll meet the owners or heads of an agency, see that they care and understand the work you do and what you want. Your values feel aligned because you will both benefit by working together.

The problem  comes when the work starts and the agents step in.

Their motives aren't bad, of course. It's just that their project aims can rarely be aligned with yours.

It's their job to get clients through the door and to deliver projects for a profit.

They have ten other projects like yours on their desk and they are under pressure to deliver quickly. Even when they want to care, they won't have the time or budget to give your work the love it deserves.

Often it leads to a lot of outsourcing too - the agents of agents step in.

A video is edited by another company in Italy. The graphic design is done in Thailand. The copywriting is done in Canada. They have no idea who you are.

I'm not chiding agencies for focusing on profit - they have to to survive. However, if our incentives and values aren't aligned, the outcome will rarely be satisfactory.

So what will I do in future?

As much as possible, I'll go for small teams or, even better, one-person shows.

You can hold them accountable, and their incentives will always be more closely aligned to yours because you need each other.

Of course, there are trade offs.

Larger agencies have more people to get things done faster. They have networks and brands. They have more hands so can turn around things faster. They have multiple people to draw on creative ideas from.

A one person show could disappear at any moment.

But I've decided that the trade-off is worth it.

With a one-person show, you're dealing directly with the principal. They will always care more because the buck stops with them. The relationships and interactions that can be built over time will also be more beneficial to both parties.

That, to me, seems worth it.

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