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TRENDSETTERS: M&C Saatchi CEO Jeff Brooks on why the Emerging Trend of Entrepreneurialism Should Matter to Agencies and Clients alike.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jeff Brooks, CEO of M&C Saatchi New York. Brooks was bullish that his agency’s entrepreneurial business model and distinctive ethos puts them in a position for growth. One doesn’t need to look far to find a growing macro business trend around entrepreneurialism as inventors, innovators, and creators of new ventures increasingly form the basis for future economic prosperity.
According to Brooks, last week’s mega-merger of Omnicom and Publicis, and the debate it has sparked illuminates the opportunity for smaller and mid-size agencies. “In the 21st century, the scale of an idea trumps the scale of an agency”, he argues. “Of course most clients want some confidence that their agency is ‘big enough’ but there is clearly a tipping point where scale becomes the enemy of culture and innovation.” Dan Wieden, pining for the days when his agency was smaller in last week’s Ad Age, is pretty good testament to this belief. In that article he suggested that “giant agencies are wobbling like drunkards... the rest of you should be sharpening your knives.”
It comes as no surprise that we have recently seen the emergence of indie start-up shops in New York like Silver & Partners, BF Graf 9000 and Circus Maximus. Additionally, the industry has seen other top executives defect from big agency jobs in pursuit of more entrepreneurial, technology-related posts at Google, Facebook and AOL to name a few. Brooks applauds this, first as validation that new breed agencies and marketing solutions are in greater client demand, and second, that it is becoming increasingly hard for large agencies to retain top talent.
However, while many agencies big and small talk about being entrepreneurial, Brooks cautions that clients need to dig deeper to see if the culture and the business model genuinely support the rhetoric. Founded in 1995 when Maurice and Charles Saatchi left their former namesake agency, M&C most certainly operates in a unique way. Unlike the growth path of other Holding Companies, the vast majority of these offices were built from scratch, or what Brooks referred to as “Grown-up Start-ups.” It’s a simple recipe, according to Brooks: find creative entrepreneurs, back them with the resources of the Network, give them significant equity in the business, and more autonomy than they’d find elsewhere.
The model seems to be working. In 18 short years M&C Saatchi has become the largest independent network worldwide, currently with 25 offices around the globe. It positions the agency in an interesting space, somewhere between the large global agencies and the smaller micro-networks - - a territory relatively unoccupied thus far in the industry.
M&C Saatchi has found that this entrepreneurial proposition tends to attract a certain kind of talent - - people who have been at larger agencies, but over time have grown allergic to the bureaucracy that often comes with that territory. Brooks is a good example of this himself, having left his 5 year stint as CEO and Chief Digital Officer of Euro RSCG New York (recently re-branded as Havas) to set up M&C Saatchi New York. His partners share a similar story, including Chief Creative Officer Pierre Lipton who was formerly Executive Creative Director of AKQA San Francisco, and a top creative at agencies including BBDO and TBWA earlier in his career. Brooks suggested that “there is a momentum which comes from people who have an emotional as well as a financial stake in what they’re creating.”
The NY Group, comprised of advertising, public relations and mobile divisions, is currently approaching 50 people and has done work for clients including General Electric, Pernod Ricard, Reckitt Benckiser, Rockport, Barnes & Noble, the United States Olympic Committee and NYC Pride, among others. Brooks suggested several new clients were to be announced shortly.
Brooks is not naïve and knows the magnitude of the climb to become a formidable shop in New York. But he’s clearly game for the challenge and feels the wind at his back.