Defining Your Advertising Agency (or Define. Define. Define.)

Jack-of-all-trades is a term that is often frowned upon, largely because the rest of the saying goes: “master of none,” and that’s not a description any professional wants to have, especially in an industry where craft is king. Advertising doesn’t mean what it used to, as any number of Bizcommunity articles will attest to, therefore small agencies are all clamouring to define themselves so that they stand out from the myriad of “creative agencies” filling old warehouses and clothing factories in Woodstock.

The problem, though, is the growing number of small start-up advertising agencies and freelancers in Cape Town who are willing to take any job that comes through the door in order to get money in the bank. Most start out with a sound purpose and solid direction but when the financial reality of running a businesses bites, they’re quick to take on projects they’re either not qualified for or simply not passionate about.

This in itself is fine, everyone needs to make some money, the problem is that the integrity of the industry suffers when the clients are left dissatisfied. Designers take jobs that require creative conceptualisation, creative agencies take on jobs that require beautiful design and craft time, digital agencies execute above-the-line work, and agencies ill-equipped to take on digital work, do so. All the while the big idea is being left to blow around in the South Easter without proper direction. This is not to say that anyone of these practitioners is untalented, incapable or at fault, it is merely a symptom of the times as clients try to save money and the importance of the role of creative direction seems to be forgotten.

Of course this is not a problem unique to Cape Town, it is just more prevalent and noticeable in Cape Town as the creative capital of the country. This trend is exacerbated by social media industry and the desire for clients to “go digital.” Again it is not due to a lack of skilled leaders in the industry, it is however due largely to the immature nature of medium and an ever changing understanding of how best to utilise it.

...the big idea is being left to blow around in the South Easter without proper direction.

Christopher Commerford

There are unfortunately too many cases of people with only slightly more knowledge than their clients, and absolutely no creative direction, convincing clients to hand over their money. Again these fly-by-nights often leave the client bitter, confused and sceptical of our industry’s ability and purpose. So, is this just a diatribe to tell everyone starting out to stop ruining it for the rest of us? Far from it. If you’re starting an agency or setting out to freelance, awesome. Go for it! The more competition that’s out there the stronger the industry will become.

What I’m trying to say is define, define, define. Help potential clients understand quickly and immediately what it is you do best, then sell yourself based on that. You’ll find yourself with more work than you know what to do with. How do you define yourself? Find what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about and what you can imagine doing for the next 40 years. Use this to sell yourself to potential clients. Have the strength to turn down work that is outside of this scope, even if you think you possibly have the skill set on staff to maybe do a good job on the brief. As the saying from the beginning of this post points out, if you aim to be too good at too many different skills you run out of time to practice becoming really good at one. The result is that you’ll never progress and become a master of your craft.