Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Why The Agency Of The Future Looks Like My Fantasy Baseball Team

You know what I love about fantasy sports? I get to play the role of general manager and customize a team to my liking. I’m an Atlanta Braves baseball fan. And as much as I love my Braves, the reality is at the beginning of the year, I’m stuck with the team they’ve put together. But, when I’m playing fantasy baseball I get to choose the combination of players I want…the ones I think are best for my team philosophy…the ones who will help me be a champion at the end of the season.

Essentially, what I get to do is create a custom team. Custom is a beautiful thing. It’s the kind of thing that people are willing to pay more for. Whether it’s clothes, cars, jewelry, kitchens, houses, shoes, etc.; people pay more for custom.

But, think about the traditional client-agency model. It’s not custom at all. Client X choose agency Y. Agency Y now puts together a “custom” team to work on that client’s business. There’s only one problem. This custom team is being put together from a small pool of talent. It’s a small pool of talent because a good portion of the agency’s talent is already assigned to other clients. Most of the A level talent is stretched too thin or pre-allocated to a specific existing client. So when the agency wins a new piece of business they ultimately combine internal talent (limited pool) with external new talent (also a limited pool) to create a “custom” team.

Hmm…that doesn’t seem very custom does it? Enfatico, was an attempt to create a custom agency offering to support one client: Dell. It was created at the request of Dell, not at the request of WPP leadership. It failed. It failed miserably. It didn’t fail because of lack of effort. No, it failed because Martin Sorrell “drafted” the wrong people to put on his team. It failed because Enfatico, was owned by WPP and therefore had to leverage the WPP network for talent, operations, logistics, etc. Essentially, they shrunk the draft pool and after shrinking the draft pool they drafted horribly.

Despite Enfatico’s failure, I think they were on to something. I think they were on to what the future of agencies will look like. Dell was bold in asking for a custom agency to support their business. They saw that the traditional agency model was not going to drive them to success. But, they made a mistake in using an agency holding company as the general manager/contractor.

You’d think with Enfatico’s rapid demise, I’d be supporting the status quo. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. See, I think clients are going to learn from the mistakes Enfatico made, but leverage the strengths of the concept. Let me break it down:

  1. You’re a client. You want the best of the best working on your business. You’ve finally realized that the old way of shopping for an agency just isn’t working.
  2. You also realize that it’s time to stop nickel and dime-ing your agency partners…and if you’re willing to pay more than you have in the past, you also want something better than what you’ve gotten in the past.
  3. That means, you’re ready to pay for custom. So instead of hiring a consultant to lead an agency review, you hire a consultant that acts more like a general manager/contractor. Their role is to assemble the best collection of talent against a defined set of roles. In short, they are responsible for recommending the draft choices. Ultimately, the client gets the final say on who gets “drafted.”
  4. Now, because you’re willing to pay for top talent, the entire market is open. The draft pool is equal to the size of those people in the industry or simply interested. Everyone, is an option.
  5. So, you might score person X from Ogilvy to be your lead account person, person Y from Edelman to head up PR, people form W+K, Crispin, BBH, etc. for your creative team, and the list goes on and on. Literally, imagine a situation where you the entire universe is your talent pool, you can draft a team of high quality talent, sign them to contracts (ensures continuity), and then let them run wild on your business.

That’s the future of the client-agency relationship folks. There’s no doubt about it. Of course, future, is a loose term. It might not happen in 2010 or 2011, but make no mistake, it’s coming. Agencies that start snatching up talent, regardless of existing need, will be the ones who make it. Look how smart Edelman was to lure David Armano away from Dachis and then pair him with Steve Rubel. You could literally argue that Edelman has positioned itself as the de facto leader in interactive strategy, social business and consumer insights.

This isn’t a crazy concept.  For years this is how broadcast production has been done.  Agencies came up with the idea and then worked with the best producer, director, editing house, etc. to come up with the best execution.  In the last few years we’ve seen the same thing happen with interactive/digital production.  Perhaps my favorite example of this was when BBDO rode Big Spaceship to a Cannes Lion…and then of course didn’t credit them for any of the work.

If there’s one thing that’s always on every agency’s business plan every year, it’s the need to improve the talent. Unfortunately, not many agencies are willing to commit the time and dollars to do it…and to be honest, why should they, when clients historically have refused to pay more for that added talent.

I’ve got a feeling that’s all going to change. CMOs, VPs of Marketing, agency executives, and the like; stop reading AdAge and stop doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.  Instead, start learning how to play fantasy baseball and pick up a copy of Moneyball. The future of your business just might depend on it.

  • Great post! I like the ability to move and shake teams up based on the problem trying to be solved. I have a couple of models that show how companies can apply this to running their ecosystem of their businesses. build teams based on problem or opportunities trying to solve or create. Do not be a beholden to your silo'd hierarchical structures!

    This is especially true when you build an internalexternal social business unit. You will need one group with a huge diverse set of specialties collaborating within natural conflict to respond and execute. There are natural specialty conflicts which are good and produce great results. Secondly, you have to have the right soft skills that know how to work within these encouragement environments and know they are collaboratively producing great things together.

    You are definitely onto something, now how to revolutionize the industry? I got my pitch fork and torch already lit!

  • This would be awesome…except it will never happen. Why? One word: resourcing. Getting people's schedules to align even when you “control” those schedules is difficult, much less when other people control them. You won't be able to pick Person X from Y because they will already be on a project. You'll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to fit together rockstar teams. This will be time-consuming and crazy expensive.

  • Dan

    But, the way I'm thinking about this is with contracts. When I buy you, I've locked you up for 3 years at $400,000 a year. So the concept of matrixing you across other obligations shouldn't exist.


  • I think there are a variety of issues with what you're proposing that would ultimately make the idea impossible to execute on. The reasons why are probably worthy of a blog post themselves.

    In the meantime, you may have meant it as a throwaway comment, but I don't see any parallel between the approach you're recommending and Moneyball. You're explicitly telling CMO's/VP's to pay for top talent, but Moneyball was all about a strategy for winning while economically disadvantaged relative to competitors.

  • Moneyball was about more than just economically disadvantaged. It was about building a great team…and not just looking at the traditional means of evaluating that talent. Bill Beane was able to expand the pool of talent by taking this approach. Just my thoughts.

  • I agree that Beane came up with a new method for evaluating talent that ultimately led to expansion of the talent pool. What made him do that, however, was that he was working with a payroll of ~$40MM while the Yankees and Red Sox were each spending $100M plus. He had to come up with a means of identifying undervalued talent that would come at much lower cost than the established superstars.

    You're telling agencies and marketers that they too need to expand the talent pool, though you're offering no suggestion for how that can be done outside of spending top dollar for talent (whether there is an existing need or not). That is about as revolutionary as what the Yankees do year in and year out and the opposite of what was chronicled in Moneyball. I'm sure Beane would have loved to be told that “everyone is an option.”

  • Well the Yankees did win the world series this year.

  • Which is precisely the reason why all MLB teams should expand the talent pool by increasing their payrolls to $208MM next year.

  • Ironically, the closest thing to what you're describing is a sports-themed collective called Athletics: http://athleticsnyc.com/about

    Usually virtual collectives are more for fun side projects than serious client work – I'm not sure how these guys pull off the team interactions or even practical matters like availability and scheduling, like Dan alluded to.

  • I’ve never understood fantasy baseball until now. Thank you for this post. I am pretty new to sports and have a lot to learn. This post was very smart and creative. Keep up the good work! Fantasy Baseball sounds fun!