‘I don’t want institutional inflexibility’: Alex Watts on indies vs holdcos

Six months into the year and Mumbrella has reported on more independent agency launches than it can count. With more and more entering the market, Poem’s recently-hired Alex Sol Watts argues that we’re in the middle of an “independent agency revolution” – and it’s an exciting time that is not slowing down.

After joining Poem earlier this month as executive director of social and strategy, and having experience from various other indies and holdcos, Watts’ decision to move to the indie comms agency was driven by the so-called revolution.

“I feel like every 36 hours, someone launches an agency that has a really exciting proposition and would be a great thing to work at,” he told Mumbrella. “Like, I’m running out of LinkedIn likes to celebrate people starting agencies! But, we’re right in the middle of this revolution.

“And while big agencies and global networks come with a lot of benefits like a sense of stability, although there are mass redundancies at the moment, great training grounds, opportunities to learn how an agency and a business works, independents are more of an election of people and a vision, and what they want to do.”

Alex Watts

Watts, who has worked at three of the big five global networks, said there is an “institutional inflexibility” that is necessary to agency networks, but he has no interest in that.

“It’s necessary to provide the stability that a certain kind of global client wants, but I am not interested in working in a place that has institutional inflexibility,” he explained.

This revolution is being seen in the agencies that the big brands are choosing.

“We’ve seen recently in Australia that the big clients aren’t held behind the network gates so much anymore,” Watts said.

With indies having more ability to move fast, question processes and think differently, he argued it provides brands an opportunity to collaborate with more reactive, adaptive and open-minded agency partners.

“The furthest I now have to walk is to Rob’s desk, which is one meter away from me, as opposed to having to go through echelons of approval for any meaningful change,” he joked.

“When we are talking about doing something differently, not only do we buy into it in the room, it’s then walking out of the room with us and the change is happening. That’s not to say we’re an entirely reactive business right, we’re not changing on the whim, it’s all informed by where we’re coming from.”


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