Saturday, November 10, 2007

How to Start an Agency

Traditional, New Media or otherwise, it's quite easy to start an ad agency. All you need is a URL. You may only be one designer. You might be a lone copywriter. Doesn't matter. You can bullshit with the best and the rest of them.
(As HighJive points out in the comments, you also need a client. But remember that logo you did for your little brother when he started his landscaping business? That's a client.)

Let's say your name is Mark Thomas Simpson. Then you can easily be Mark, Thomas, Simpson and Associates. You could also be MT+S. If you don't want to go the vanity route, name your agency after a real word, but misspell the word, bettering your chances that some variation will be available as a URL. Like Creeeightive. Or Adzthatwurck.

Contract with a Flash designer and get him/her to design a site that uses lots of rounded boxes. Make sure the boxes have a bit of shine to them. Random vertical and horizontal lines of varying thicknesses work well also. Black is a good color to go with, as is gray. Splash some pastels in there sparingly and you're good to go. On your logo in the upper left corner, make sure the designer puts a fading reflection under it. When your site is loading, make sure you have a cool status bar that shows the progress. It is best to have sci-fi sound effects while the site is loading. On your navigation bar, weird sci-fi noises work well when items are moused over. Try noises such as "vwwip," "zzhhhhttt" and "boink."

You will need a portfolio page, of course, but don't worry if you have nothing to show. Use stuff you did in school. Or better, just put a friendly message up that says, "Coming soon! We are currently developing this portion of our website and hope to have it ready in the coming weeks. Check back soon."

It is crucial that you call yourself an "Award Winning, Full Service" ad agency. The awards might come later, but if someone calls you on it, show them that Silver Addy from the small regional club's student competition you won in the category where you were the only entrant. As for the "full-service" part, no one needs to know that everything you do will be farmed out to freelancers.

The "About Us" page is very crucial. Talk about how different you are. Talk about "thinking outside the box." Talk about how you seek nothing less than to actually crawl into the heads of your clients and BECOME them, the better to understand them and make them successful. Say something along the lines of "we are only successful when YOU are successful." The following are actual examples taken from agency websites. Say something like these marketers did.

  • "We thrive on making connections with our clients and their audience and strive to make engaging, results-driven communications."
  • "Our process is simple. We concept unique ideas, execute them properly and show you results that effect you where it counts - the bottom line."
  • "We foster a casual environment where thoughts, ideas, and out-of-the-box strategies can incubate and evolve into client success."
If you have cool furniture, it is crucial that you show it off on a "Tour Our Agency" section. Potential clients expect that good work is done in a trendy, quirky environment. If you don't have cool furniture, steal some imagery from the Design Within Reach website. If a client ever wants to visit your cool space, find an excuse why they can't. "We're in the middle of an expansion project and the construction noise here is just unbearable. Let's meet at your place." When you show up, men should wear black. Do not wear a tie. Also, buy some emo glasses, grow a soul patch and consider shaving your head. Women, bizarre color combinations such as purple stockings and yellow running shoes show that you are creative. Emo glasses work well on you also. As do tattoos.

Don't worry that your operation is small. You simply call yourself a "boutique" agency. Your small size also enables you to approach every client in a "hands on" way. You are able to provide "the personal touch and customized service unavailable in large, corporate agencies."

Now you're in business. I wish you much success.

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  • technically, you forgot to mention the only thing you really need to start an agency: a client.

    otherwise, it's just a studio apartment with a funky web site.

    By Blogger HighJive, at November 10, 2007 at 4:04 PM  

  • “out-of-the-box strategies can incubate”

    But how can something out be in? I’m SO confused now. And the female tat thing, depends where. What about piercings?

    By Blogger Make the logo bigger, at November 10, 2007 at 8:38 PM  

  • Wow, wished I had brought my buzzword bingo card to this one. I did a 'control-F' search, and didn't find SYNERGY - I will shoot the next person besides scott adams that uses that word

    By Blogger Jim, at November 11, 2007 at 12:48 AM  

  • I write this comment anonymously because, well...

    Recently, while seeking ad ad job in a new city, I have explored many of the area's agency websites. It's truly sad how many of them write the same tired buzzlines.

    Your assessment is dead on.

    God help us all.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 11, 2007 at 2:40 AM  

  • Very funny post.

    A few things you forgot:

    Bios of the principles (or principle) as the case may be, that highlights being a misfit as a child and perhaps some reference to time spent trying to find yourself and a relationship with a dog.

    The About Us section needs to talk about being "media agnostic" or "comfortable in any medium" and using "social media and other guerrilla tactics." You need to use the word "storytelling" as much as possible, even to the point that readers aren't sure if you're a children's librarian or an ad agency.
    Oh, and you're not an ad agency. You're a communications company, a communications agent, a branding center-- some completely amorphous bullshit phrase like that.

    And be sure to get those Facebook pages up.

    By Blogger Toad, at November 11, 2007 at 7:45 PM  

  • One other thing: your web site should be nearly impossible to navigate. The various sub-navs should consist of counterintuitive symbols and the flash should do all sorts of wacky things before you're finally able to actually click on anything.

    By Blogger Toad, at November 11, 2007 at 7:47 PM  

  • I don't think I've laughed – or cringed, for that matter – so much in a while. This is article is as naked truth as it's ever going to get.

    By Anonymous Xenon, at November 12, 2007 at 7:52 AM  

  • awesome. my new business is going to be booming in no time.


    By Blogger Thinking In Vain, at November 12, 2007 at 1:54 PM  

  • Damn, someone else has been reading our site. Big egos are also important- so you can walk in and tell clients that everything that was done before was shit- and start over from scratch.
    We've been in business almost 19 years now- and we're guilty of about half of the above- but I think our big difference comes in that our CCO actually used to sell something tangible before he started in advertising- and knows something about the sales process.
    I can't believe how many people in advertising have never actually sold anything other than their own ideas on what works- as opposed to having to actually close deals.

    By Blogger David Esrati, at November 12, 2007 at 11:22 PM  

  • Don't think I took any copy out of Dayton for this post, David, but the ideas are pretty universal.

    And you're right. A good closer is a must if you hope to stay in business.

    By Blogger Jetpacks, at November 13, 2007 at 7:10 AM  

  • I would add to Toad's comment that the bios need to be totally *ahem* creative and show how trendy the people are. If you are only one person, you can still have several people listed, just use shadow outlines for everyone.

    Excellent post.

    By Blogger Chris Houchens, at November 13, 2007 at 9:13 AM  

  • Add a super fancy titles on your business card...or, now the clients will love this quirky twist...a clever fake title quickly followed by your actual self absorbed, now you're in business.

    By Blogger houvenagle, at November 21, 2007 at 10:18 AM  

  • So if not any of that, what? A bad mood blog?

    By Blogger Joe Murray, at June 16, 2010 at 1:59 PM  

  • What are you trying to say, Joe?

    By Blogger Jetpacks, at June 16, 2010 at 4:21 PM  

  • What I am asking you, is if not hanging a shingle and creating an agency, what's the option? Are you going out on your own, freelancing?

    My clients prefer to have a set of resources behind the account , including an engaged copywriter.

    As I'm solo now, I have to use the Hollywood model and hire freelancers to handle projects. I dig it, but clients want to vet the team before committing.

    And bad moods. You seem a bit sour and angry - understandably. I attribute my agency separation to a chip on the shoulder of our creative director. Bad karma leads to bad advertising.

    By Blogger Joe Murray, at June 23, 2010 at 11:47 AM  

  • Well, Joe - first of all to my bad mood: you'll note the post was written over two and a half years ago. I've let some things go since then, but not my opinion that so many agencies are fluff and BS. The quotes in the post come from actual agency websites' "About Us" sections, and not a one of them is original. A client looking to engage an agency should take note that many are not in the least bit creative when it comes to promoting their most important client, themselves.

    My dig at the way agency websites are created still stands: the faded reflection logo, the gray and black with a splash of color. Everyone mimicking everyone else,

    Yes, I am freelancing, but just for kicks, I created a fake agency: Who knows, someone might stumble upon it and ask for a quote or a tour. If that happens, I'll round up some freelancers and we'll meet the client at their place!

    It's all in fun, Joe. Good luck in your business.

    By Blogger Jetpacks, at June 23, 2010 at 12:00 PM  

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