What’s Your Agency’s Purpose? Why Creating Great Work Isn’t Enough

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MAR 11, 2018: SXSW South by Southwest Annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival in Austin, Texas. Wall painted with colorful faces, symbolic for SXSW.

What on earth is your agency’s purpose? The agency of the future needs a clearly defined purpose in order to thrive, but so often agencies are great at communicating purpose for their clients, but not for themselves.

Speaking on stage at SXSW, Emily Goldhill, who is the strategy lead for US ad agency Livity, said that creative agencies are now harder to distinguish than ever before because their only purpose is to “create great work”.

“All agencies start out as something different, but end up looking the same,” she said, adding they need to consider what makes them unique in a sea of sameness.

Having worked at Saatchi & Saatchi and Grand Union, Goldhill has experienced what it’s like to work within an ad agency that lacks purpose and their lack of differentiation is causing them to “become redundant”.

Goldhill explained: “Brands don’t need you in the way they have in the past; they have internal creative teams and consultants.

“This all means the talent, the best and the brightest, they want to work for somewhere that has purpose”.

She added: “You’re not offering that, but the brand is.

“Agencies are also not trusted.

“In the US, advertisers are the least trusted industry alongside oil. In the UK, politicians and bankers are trusted more than ad men”.

She argued that the idea of brand purpose and ‘purpose campaigns’, such as Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad or Patagonia’s sustainability approach, are here to stay and for agencies to compete with in-housing and the threat of consultancies, they need to devise their own purpose.

Goldhill questioned: “‘Making great work’ may have justified starting an agency in the past, but in the era of in-house creative, how do you persuade the talent of the future to join you? Or clients to buy you? And maybe even… do something worthwhile with your job”.

She continued: “Purpose generates fame, but also longevity.

“I’m not saying that great work doesn’t matter, it absolutely does, but it should be a given when you work in the creative industry and with a purpose, you can start to do a lot more.

“With a purpose, you can start to redefine the client relationship. Clients will need you for more things, they will come to you for more and ultimately, they will give you more money.

“You will challenge consultancies and their business model… Also, that talent, the best and the brightest, will want to work for you”.



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