“The advertising agency of the future will consist of...a tiny leadership team that provides
creative direction. The creative production itself will be distributed to individuals and small teams around the globe who are at the top of their game.” - In an article on 99U, Scott Belsky of Behance.
Long before COVID19, and the urge to become virtual in the ad space, over the past decade, virtual ad agencies have started to form all over the globe, and mostly flew under the radar, until now.
The Traditional Ad Agency Model
When you look at the traditional ad agency model, there are many flaws that were for years left unseen.
The typical acquiring of a new account goes like something like this:
Top executives at large corporations meet with top executives at prospective ad agencies.
An ad agency pitch is initiated pulling experts from the agency to pitch a strategy, media plan, and creative direction.
Top executives from both ends shake hands, sign retainer deals.
An account team who never met with the brand is being assigned to manage and execute all advertising operations.
Very rarely after the agreement is signed between the agency and the brand, the executives who signed it are actually involved with implementation.
The ad dollars are being assigned to a media planner who gets paid a non-impressive salary to buy the media. The creative work is being assigned to a junior graphic designer who’s being paid minimal wage to build his portfolio and resume for the future, and the writers are pumping out as many words as possible per hour.
It's no secret that the traditional ad agency mostly employs underpaid, overworked, new talent, that needs to add work experience to their resume. Just looking at job boards you can see what they pay for talent, and the average employee lasts at an ad agency no more than 2 years. The common term used between employees is “a sweatshop”.
For the brand that means that they mostly pay for an expansive and very impressive office space the agency is using, and for the executive team, who holds the high salaries for bringing in accounts - not actually managing them. Actual work productivity, creativity, ideation and innovation is left in the hands of overworked, underpaid employees to figure out.
And brands have started take notice...
A recent article in Ad Age shares how Domino's went looking for a new Hispanic agency they asked that employees of all levels that will be working on their account be present at the meeting. They didn't want to fall for the common bait-and-switch where you get all the senior people in the room and then you don't see them again.
The Rise of Virtual Ad Agencies
Breaking away from the traditional agency model, and working together with employees from ad agencies virtually (outside the agency walls), ex-ad employees formed an out-of-office alliance. They started working on ad campaigns, designs, and plans outside working hours, for extra pay.
It was clear that outside the office space, working virtually, allowed many to be a lot more creative. Being paid per project, per campaign, per assignment, per hour, also increased appreciation for the money, and being able to to focus without water-cooler conversations, coffee breaks, and micro-managers increased productivity.
It also helped assume more responsibility for the work produced. Because we were now facing the client directly, working hands on on their business, with no middle people. In a way it felt as if each of us - the writers, designers, web developers, media buyers - were our own micro-agency servicing the client with personal involvement. Unlike under-paid employees at an “ad factory”.
So we started doing more of that - work independently, until a lot of us completely left the agency world and started our own businesses.
We’ve been called freelancers, virtual workers, entrepreneurs…but in reality we are, and always have been a “beehive” of virtual agencies, led by the top creative innovators at leading agencies, who broke free.
This left virtual agencies with pure, real, productive execution and creation. With all the same creative minds. The budget and costs went directly towards productivity and actual work preformed, hands on by the team pitching the account. Every campaign, every project, every media buy, ad design, digital campaign are crafted by the same exact people who craft it for Fortune 500 companies, they just do it independently from a large agency, and got paid per performance. We met virtually through video conferences, utilized digital project management systems, and worked daily… just like we do now. Only we started 8 years ago.
Today I realize that we were ahead of the game.
Virtual Agencies are Not The Future: They are The Past You’ve Been Ignoring
Boutique virtual ad agencies have been working on large brands and campaigns behind the scenes for over a decade, without real recognition in an industry that doesn't really know how to define them.
But brands who've been utilizing them noticed cut costs (removing fancy offices spaces and executive management), and saw campaigns and creativity beyond what the traditional agency box can offer. Simply because virtual agencies try harder, and appreciate every dollars more.
Creative Noggin describe their virtual agency as such: "Simply put, a virtual advertising agency is pretty much like a traditional ad agency without the confines of traditional office walls. We all work from home offices and are in constant communication, connected virtually the entire workday. This allows us to keep our costs focused on our clients instead of on a receptionist, building rent, fancy conference room, furniture, office equipment, etc.We share files, collaborate remotely and always meet clients in their conference rooms, which they prefer anyway. This type of work environment is not for everyone, so we carefully select people that are already seasoned, self-disciplined, organized and great time managers."
In a piece by Commarts.com, they explain "For an industry built around forward-thinking ideas and a universe of inventive minds, you’d think someone would’ve reimagined the traditional creative firm long ago. Sure, offices have gotten facelifts, spaces are more open and cubicle walls have been lowered. But for the most part, brick-and-mortar design and advertising workplaces have barely evolved. Of course, if it ain’t broke… you know the drill. But something’s obviously not jiving. There’s a growing unrest among experienced creatives disillusioned with conventional agency methods, so much so that the desire to create meaningful work in more cost-efficient, flexible and personally satisfying environments is pushing talented folks to think outside the walls—literally. The results: creative collectives, networked models, distributed teams—however you label them, virtual creative agencies are popping up in coffee shops, co-working spaces and homes across the country. And while the notion isn’t entirely new, ditching the cool studio space in exchange for a business run from wherever there’s Wi-Fi, with an entirely remote employee and client base, is becoming a heck of a lot more viable thanks to ever-emerging technologies."
Well, the future is here. It's been here for a while now. And it's time for the industry to catch up and join the movement.