Now

London Advertising Agency

The Joy of Independence

By John Townshend, Chairman and Founder, Now.

In this article, I will persuade you that the independent agency model is the way forward. That the other models are just silly or boring or cumbersome. Subliminally, you will get the impression that my agency is the best thing since sliced cheese, and, if you are a Chief Marketing Officer, you will call up Sir Martin Sorrell and say: “Martypops, I’m going to move my account, Megabrand, to a hotshop in Soho called Now.”

Martin will fall off his beanbag in horror, then get on to the blower to me, and offer to buy us for £79m, and I will retire to Ibiza and join the nouveau riche on my Sunseeker.

No, that won’t happen. That was my little fantasy. I’m a dreamer, you see, as anyone who starts an agency is. A deluded chancer, who has a severe case of optimism, bordering on lunacy. And I have four partners who are the same.

I read a great definition of an entrepreneur – someone who jumps off a cliff and builds an aeroplane on the way down. I like that. The truth is, anyone – not just my partners and I  – who joins a five-year-old, 100% independent company is signing up to a job as a downwardly mobile aeroplane-maker.

They’re a specific breed, the people who join us: self-starting, curious, restless, brave, imaginative, ambitious, and many other good adjectives. And, yes, slightly crazy.

The challenge is to keep challenging those people; to keep them interested, teach them new things, give them unreasonable amounts of responsibility, help them feel fulfilled. And to love them like your own.

There’s the other side of independence, though. The side you never talk about in articles like this. The fear. The fact that you have to stretch yourself further than you thought possible. The intensity.

Back in my days at a big US agency, if we won an account, you hardly felt it. It was like someone having an orgasm in the next-door bedroom. If you lost one, you hardly felt it either. Here, everyone feels everything. Every pitch we don’t win, every client who ditches us. It’s hard.

But – here’s the optimist – there’s an upside to this downside. Everyone gets to experience the truth of the agency business. Everyone cares. We laugh together and cry together, and everyone shares in the sense of the struggle that running a business is. They get a sense of responsibility, of reality, and they get to grow up fast.

The joy of independence is being part of this overexcited family. And the joy of independence for a client is that you get to work with people like this. They’ll go out on a limb for you because they’re already out on a limb.

As featured in Campaign: https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/year-ahead-new-agency-models/1453542