The agency of the future is not an agency

Strategist Matt Kendall discusses the future of agency models and how distributed and autonomous specialist networks are the way of the future.

“No structure, even an artificial one, enjoys the process of entropy. It is the ultimate fate of everything, and everything resists it.” ― Philip K. Dick


In an industry where your capital walks in and out of the door each day, the value you can bring a client all comes down to talent.

How can any one company house the talent required to deliver the optimal solution for each business challenge? Briefs are already calling for teams consisting of an infinitely diverse list of specialties. No agency can provide that.

Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea

If the agency outsources, increasing proportions of its budgets are siphoned out of the company to accommodate for this. Over time, this eats away at their margins and they miss their aggressive growth targets.

If they try to keep the budget in-house, they are either making do with the talent they have, or they bring talent on to the payroll who may not be needed on a regular basis. Who can tell when change is so fast and random?

Entropy doesn’t lend itself to standardisation.

In my previous post, I suggested that new models will emerge that are distributed and nodal in nature. The one that excites me the most is a co-operative model of distributed and autonomous specialist networks.

Not only does this model better reflect and adjust to the digital networks we communicate with, but there is an incredible potential for a new level of autonomy and mutual prosperity.

But what does this look like? And how do you deliver the talent that is needed each and every time?

The Hollywood Model

Hollywood provides some reference. Specifically, Ocean’s Eleven and the approach George Clooney takes when he lands a backer for the ultimate casino heist. His solution calls for a crack team of specialists including con men, an explosives expert, a hacker, a pickpocket and even an acrobat.

Assemble a crack team of specialists

The Hollywood Model involves assembling a crack team of specialists to support your core staff

As an approach to business (rather than casino heists), this is known as the Hollywood Model. Film studios have been using it for years. They keep a core staff at studio HQ and then engage partners and crew with the specific skills required to best execute the film.

If you’ve ever been on a TVC shoot, you’ve seen the model in action. The different teams on the shoot may or may not have worked together before, but they all have their role and are specialists at it.

With the right coordination, everyone knows how to work with each other and what to do to get the job done and done right. All at once and in parallel.

To translate this to the wider agency function would require a formalisation of the many informal professional connections out there into bounded networks of digital, business, creator and communications professionals.

There are agencies such as Victors and Spoils that have experimented with crowdsourcing. co: is doing great things with its collective and collaborative approach. But there is potential to go beyond this and the confines of an actual agency and into independent networks.

These networks would coalesce into flexible project teams to cooperate on specific projects. Combining skills and resources, they would then disband once the project is complete.

Teams could even convene to pitch for retainer style accounts, so the client knows they are receiving a purpose-built team and solution for their business problem.

Future Of Work

Current technologies (such as Slack, Trello, G-Suite, Dropbox, Xero and myriad other cloud-based SaaS tools) and share spaces distribute these cooperative principals even further, minimising overheads.

All you need is a laptop with an internet connection, your skills and these services and your business can be profitable, within a week.

Instead of a renovated inner-city warehouse with ping-pong table and bar, you can work from your sunroom at home with your dog at your feet.

Given the need to commute daily is no longer required, you can move up the coast and surf every morning and evening without taking on a crippling Sydney mortgage. Only venturing into the city a day or two a week for workshops and meetings.

Fishburners offers start-ups office space

Fishburners offers start-ups office space

If working from home isn’t your thing, there are new and affordable share space offices cropping up all over the city, like FishburnersWeWork and Work Club. Here you can work alongside other start-ups and creative professionals collaborating and cross-pollinating ideas and opportunities.

Due to the structure of this model, there is no margin; no-one gets the cream. Each specialist in the network receives value. Especially the client.

Alternative marketplace

There is the potential to create an alternative marketplace. One that will allow specialist experts to apply their skills and talents to projects they want to work on.

A market that provides unprecedented freedom and prosperity. Where three (or even two) days work nets you in the vicinity of a full week’s pay at an agency (while still charging the client much less than any agency would). And you won’t be pulling unpaid overtime and weekend work.

You could use that spare time to take yoga classes, learn a new language, spend more time with your kids, give your skills to love jobs or pro bono clients, surf, or simply take more projects on to earn more bank. It is entirely up to you.

A new ‘agency of the future.’

We are at the crossroads.

Either technology slams us headlong into a future, where as knowledge workers we are just cogs in a machine. A machine playing a zero sum game of productivity for holding company profits and share prices.

Or even worse:

“Being an Uber driver moonlighting as Taskrabbit moonlighting as doggy-masseuse to your nearest branch of the Kardashian Dynasty” Umair Haque

Or we can herald in a new era of digital humanism. As Douglas Rushkoff evangelises, we can re-set the operating system so there is the opportunity for collaboration, co-creation, connection and the preconditions for mutual prosperity.

It’s re-directing the promise of the digital economy away from exponential automation and corporate profits, to making it about human potential. Having it work for us, rather than us for it. To have these incredible technologies augment human autonomy rather than replace it.

If you are good at what you do and you’re future focused, you are no doubt being head-hunted for a big new role. Don’t take it. Take the leap and bust out on your own. Your skills will be in demand and you will be able to pay the bills. You can freelance while you’re building your brand and network.

If you’re an indie doing great work for excellent clients, don’t sell to the global consultancies or holding companies. Don’t take on the golden handcuffs and watch all that equity you built up be destroyed by the growth juggernaut.

If you’re an indie doing great work, don’t take the golden handcuffs and watch all that equity you built up be destroyed by the growth juggernaut.

If you’re an indie doing great work, don’t take the golden handcuffs and watch all that equity you built up be destroyed by the growth juggernaut

Small is beautiful. You don’t need scale to take on bigger, more interesting projects. Connect with other like-minded indies and specialists to go up against the incumbents and win the good stuff with a whole new approach. And you still get to do what you love to do, the way you love to do it.

We will never have this chance again to create a gig economy worth getting excited about. An alternative market is emerging. A future of work that fosters genuine agency for its participants — and a whole new take on the agency of the future.

This article was published originally on LinkedIn and is republished with the author’s permission.

Matt Kendall is a freelance strategist


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