11 Feb 2015
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An Agency for Artistry

If artistry, entertainment and co-creating are becoming such significant areas of our industry, what does it mean for our agency models? The One Centre CEO, John Ford, examines how agencies need to structure for artistry.

So many new ways to engage and sell. Meeting this challenge is a powerful art.

In a world brimming with creative artistry, brands face a need to contribute work that is entertaining and culturally significant. Agencies need to be structured to create this work and be good at it.

The variety of disciplines required to create and engineer branded arts and entertainment has grown beyond 360 and even beyond being multidisciplinary.

It’s a fanciful exercise to believe that one fixed team under one roof could provide great research, strategy and creativity, along with art and design, content, digital arts and technology, product design, experiential, music, fashion, interior design and architecture.

To assemble all these skills in-house, an agency would need a very large client list with an enormous demand level.  Or it would have to stop and re-engineer how to access and offer those skills.

The structure for artistry is not just a practical or commercial issue. It’s a cultural issue.

People now are so much more sophisticated in the way they consume creativity. There are so many cultures and subcultures, it’s crucial we can speak to them all with authenticity and originality.

The job’s too big to tackle the old agency way. Reach out to people who really know the new ground…

It is impossible that a single group of people - irrespective of how talented they may be – can do this to a number of different target audiences.

Today’s agencies, wanting to be truly multi-disciplinary, need access to creative artists or people who live among, deliver to, or speak regularly with the audiences they are trying to reach.

I am talking about a structural shift in the way creative companies organise themselves so that they are more agile and flexible in the type of creativity they can conceive and produce.

I‘m talking about a cultural shift in thinking about people and brands.  Being more culturally aware of the contexts our marketing and communication efforts are going into so that what we do ‘fits’ as well as disrupts.


1. Agencies need flexible access to different creative artists

Brand agencies need to be good at how to place brands credibly into the cultures they seek to engage with. It does not mean they have to be from that culture. The agency needs a hybrid of powerful strategic skills and ability to high-concept what could work well in any context. Development and execution of the strategy and big idea, however, need a level of authenticity and originality beyond mimicry in the type of creativity employed and its values and cultural attributes.

Good creative thinking and understanding of values of different cultures cuts through.

Agencies need to become more ‘agent-like’ again, building external networks with creative talent from different worlds, many from beyond the world of ‘marketing’. The value of the agency becomes less about being a factory of fixed creative assets but a highly strategic creative company with the high-level creative thinking and connections to assemble the best creative team for the job.

2. Agencies need to be expert in rich cultural understanding

Brand agencies have to be good at business strategy, ‘consumer insight’ and brand strategy. Of equal importance is an ability to generate rich cultural understanding. While a lot of learning can come from sophisticated quantitative and qualitative research, agencies need to become travellers in different worlds, seeking to understand the machinations, politics, rituals, symbols and creative expressions and values of cultures. Documenting the creative world of a culture, from business worlds to consumer worlds needs to be high on our list. It helps us understand how we penetrate those worlds, how we shape our messages and who we use to shape them and give them cultural gravitas and influence.

3. As an industry we need to contribute to culture

Agencies have always been good at emulating culture but as an industry we need to give back rather than just use. We need to help brands to contribute to society and culture rather than just exploit it. This is ambitious. But as the lines between advertising and content in all its forms blur and we’re more reliant on creating marketing that people want to engage with, it’s obligatory we try to make things of value.

An agency for artistry

Brands compete with all forms of culture and entertainment for audience time and affection.

The project that can capture emotions
beats the path to successful connection.

People seek significance and emotional connection. Brands need to create powerful central ideas linking their commercial opportunity to a consumer cause and culture.

An agency for the age of artistry needs to be good at brand and business strategy and generating these big ideas. Its ideas need to be free of internal executional bias or constraints.

Once this ‘heart' is established an agency needs a global network of independent creative artists from different disciplines and cultures.  The agency needs a vision for combining disciplines and talents.

At The One Centre we call this a model of Integrated Specialisation.

We have created a core team of strategists and multidisciplinary creators with strong cultural sensibilities supported by a network of specialist creative artists and technical production experts.

We are not alone in this thinking.  There’s a need and a demand for agencies to structure for artistry. Crucial to this is the industry’s ability to reach out to creative artists and connect with different cultures and subcultures.

The biggest risk our industry faces is that we remain intellectually bright but we lose touch with culture.  Ultimately it is culture that will inform the types of creativity that we are using and it becomes the force that you need to compete and be relevant.

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JOHN FORD is Founder & CEO of The One Centre and Executive Chairman of The One Centre Group.
He's also Publisher of Branded Arts Review, an online publication dedicated to showcasing the best branded content, entertainment, design, digital, architecture and experiences from around the world. LinkedIn johnnyford


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