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Should you work with creative agencies? The pros and cons

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

Hello friend, and welcome back to the Alex Makes VR podcast. Today's episode is day number 6 of my 10 day challenge where every single day, I'm releasing a podcast, a short and sweet little podcast straight to your ear holes in the hopes that it encourages and inspires you to take some kind of small action today, towards a goal that you've been wanting to achieve.


Whether that be just five minutes working on that creative project, five minutes to do that self development, five minutes learning that new skill, five minutes researching that next business venture, whatever it is just take five minutes today to make progress in some area of your life, I promise you, you won't regret it. So today's episode is a little bit more practical than the first five episodes. The first five were very much mindset, motivation, big picture kind of thinking, which is all very, very important. Especially when you work by yourself, it can sometimes be a little bit chaotic in your own head. So it's good to kind of come back to those big picture ideas. But today's episode, I'm answering actually a question that I got from a listener and it's about working with creative agencies, what are the benefits? What are the challenges? So I'm going to try and do a as succinct and short episode as possible about this subject because there's so much that I could go into. I've worked with many creative agency over the years and I have to say right off the bat, that I personally prefer to work directly with clients and there's a few reasons for that, which I'll get into. Before I get into why I personally prefer that, let's talk about some of the pros of working with a creative agency.


This is a full transcription of the podcast episode, instead you can listen to the podcast here:

For those of you don't know, a creative agency is exactly what it sounds like. It's an agency, a company should I say, that is specifically set up to work directly with brands, usually bigger brands and companies to take care of all of the kind of creative, could be production or marketing or brand strategy. It could be communications, could be like a whole, you know, design rebrand, it could cover so much. Obviously there are agencies big and small that cover everything from, like I say, a total rebrand to specifically rolling out an advertising campaign for a particular product or, you know, does the marketing for companies and it in general. So these are creative houses that don't usually have specialist talent in house. What they tend to be is, they have a lot of project managers or producers in house that have a widespread knowledge on marketing or advertising or creative production. What they'll do is, they will employ freelancers to come in and actually execute on projects. Now, I will say that I would not be surprised if in the next few years, we see a massive decline in creative agencies. The reason being because really, they're not very cost effective. Creative agencies charge an arm and a leg and really, they end up charging, you know, 20% plus on top of a freelancer, which is fair enough But you know, often I think companies could either go directly to creators if they know what they want, or they could build their own in house marketing teams now that you know, create content and marketing and social media. It's such a big role in companies nowadays, it's such a massive important part. No longer is it a case of you know, once a year, we need a marketing video and so it'd be pointless having someone in house, so we’ll just hire an agency to do it. Now it's a bit more like, well, you need content constantly. You need a strategy constantly and it's constantly changing, constantly evolving. So I wouldn't be surprised if we start to see and we already are starting to see big companies build their own in house agency teams. But that being said, there will still always be a need for freelance creatives. So what are some of the pros of working in that way, where you are being hired in as a specialist?


A pro is that you are coming in as a specialist. You are coming in, usually to do a very, very specific role and usually the idea is already set ,they just need someone to execute on it. So it might be that you know, they bring you in as a filmmaker or a 360 creator or a visual effects person to execute on an idea that has already been established, you know, the agency works directly with the client to come up with the idea. Then they'll bring you in to execute on it and that's quite nice, because you get to come in, you get to do your creative job, but then you get to leave. There's not much pressure really, because everything is kind of decided beforehand, and you're just coming into execute, you'll get to work with bigger brands this way. You know, the big big brands probably won't work directly with small creators, freelancers, unless, like I say, we see this shift towards in house agencies and so the opportunities that you will get to work with bigger brands and clients will happen through an agency. Some of the biggest brands that I've worked with, have been through agencies. So you get a chance to work on bigger portfolios, pieces that will go out internationally, whereas usually, maybe if you're approaching clients and companies directly, maybe you wouldn't have that opportunity until you're a bit further along in your career. So it unlocks that opportunity for you. Also, lest we forget, you can get in with one creative agency, and all of a sudden, you don't need any more clients, because they're finding the clients for you. So, my little brother, he is a motion graphics designer primarily and he tends to work with one or two big agencies who then source all of his work for him. So all of a sudden, you don't need to be going out and finding lots of clients constantly or companies to work with because, you know, if you're in with one agency, they will tend to have a slate of loads of clients. So they've essentially done the selling for you. So if you don't like selling and you're not big on having to think about the project and how it will benefit a company all around, then maybe working with an agency would be good for you because you don't have to do any of that stuff, you just literally come in and do your creative job. So those are the kind of the main pros.


The cons… the main challenges I would warn you about when working with agencies is that you are a much smaller cog in a much bigger machine. When you work with an agency, you are a tiny piece of a much larger puzzle. Often, your bit that you're creating is, you know,…one of 10 things that are happening on that one account. So it might be that you're creating…let's say a bit of social media content, or a bit of, I don't know, internal content, or an activation video or something. Let’s say, the account itself is massive, it's got an international TV advert that is being produced as the centre stage, it's got a whole social media campaign happening, it's got, a whole communication strategy being rolled out alongside it. So you're now a tiny little piece of the puzzle, which means that often, you know, you will usually be treated accordingly.


Not to slam any agencies, but generally speaking, they've got much bigger fish to fry than making sure that you're happy. So they have very high expectations and the budgets and the time of day that you're given will kind of be a lot less. So there can be quite a lot of pressure that comes with working with agencies, say lower budgets, you will not be able to command a large sum of money. Now, not a large sum of money, that's kind of a bit of a sweeping statement unless you are like super, super specialist and they have come to you specifically because you are renowned for your specialism, you will not be able to command as much money as you could if you work directly with the client. That's because they've got to have their cut, you know, they've got to put a margin on top of you, they’ve got to make them money on top of you and also it's highly competitive. Everyone wants to work with creative agencies, because they do have this prestige attached to them for working with big brands. So if that's your bag, that's great, but just know that they will squeeze you on your rate. Absolutely. Not only will they squeeze you on the rate, they will expect a lot in terms of what you deliver. The problem that I've always found with agencies, this is probably one of my biggest gripes, is that you don't get any input on the creative. So even though you're being brought in as the specialist to execute on something, usually the creative has been determined before you were involved.


I once worked on a project with an agency as the 360 video expert, and they had already pre decided all of the information and all of the stuff that they wanted to do with the 360 video. When I came in on it, I was like - well, none of this is feasible with 360 video…like, you physically can't do this, this is just a traditional video that you're wanting, none of this, none of these shots are actually possible right now. Or if they are, they're going to cost a lot of money, and they're not really going to work very well, because you know, the way that you want to roll out, that's going to make people feel sick. You know, I've had encounters with agencies where I'm kind of like the fourth in line. So there's like an agency working with another agency, working with a bigger agency, working with a bigger agency and of course, in order to change anything creatively, that change has to go all the way up that ladder, get signed off, and then come all the way back down the ladder. By the time that we worked on this project, it was kind of too late, the dates that already been set, the celebrities that they had booked to appear in this piece had already been scheduled in the calendar, so it was too late to change anything and no one really had the authority to do so. So we just kind of had to show up and deliver on something that we knew creatively wasn't going to work and so you are kind of a little bit at the mercy of agencies, because they will take the reins on the creative.


You will also most likely be working with a project manager or producer that doesn't know the ins and outs of your specialism and of course not because they are a generalist by nature but their job is to be the project manager, not to know the ins and outs of why a moving shot in 360 is going to take twice as long in post production or not right? So they will have already kind of decided on timelines and things like that and they wouldn’t account for technical things that you would account for, if you were working directly with the client or they wouldn’t have accounted for creative decisions and how that will have an impact on things like budget and timelines. So sometimes that can be quite frustrating and having said that, you know, I don't want to shit all over agencies… they can be really great and like I say, you get to work on some really exciting and creative boundary pushing projects. When you work with an agency because the very nature of brands that commission or hire creative agencies is that they want something kind of innovative and arty and something a bit out there…so you know, like a TV advert or something, quite daring, something where a famous directors being hired in to shoot it, those are the kind of things that you'll get on an agency shoot, which obviously, you wouldn't get working directly with a company necessarily. So it really depends on what you're in it for.

What are you hoping to get from it? If you don't like selling, then this could be a really good option, because you're going to get to work with big brands and not have to do much the selling although just remember though, that means that you are at the mercy of what work they have for you. So if they have a dry spell, or if they lose a contract, then you lose a contract, you have a dry spell. But you know, you also get to just be a creative specialist, if that is your bag. So, without going further into it, those are my big overarching thoughts on working with creative agencies.


Again, I've had some really quite negative experiences but I've also had a lot of fun working on agency shoots and I've met some cool people and got to work with you know, big, big global brands, and as part of the process as well. So there's my thoughts.


I hope that was helpful. Probably not. You're probably more confused than ever as to whether or not you should work with agencies. Like I say, I would not be surprised in the slightest, in the next, you know…two, three years if we start to see the collapse of the agency world, just because again, they for so long, haven't really had to move as fast for as little money as possible. As we're seeing, the appetite is now with social media and the need for constant content. So yeah, those are my thoughts. This is a slightly longer episode today, but I hope you got some value from that. If you've got a subject or a question for future episodes, please let me know I would love to hear from you.


It is @alexmakesvr on Instagram and Twitter and please sign up for the newsletter. I send it out every Monday with my best tips and tricks on kick starting your creative or VR career/ business. You can sign up for that www.alexmakesvr.com and I will speak to you tomorrow, my friend.


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