In the past week, I’ve heard three senior staff members from totally different but equally successful creative marketing firms tell me that “agency” is a bad word at their company. They might be a studio or a consultancy or a design shop or a next-generation interactive integrated something-or-other but just don’t call them an agency. Because the one thing they are most certainly NOT is an agency.
I realize of course that some of this agency-resistance is just a natural consequence of our attempts to differentiate ourselves in a competitive industry full of smart and talented people. And part of it is an attempt to distance our ventures from a particularly limited kind of agency that only focuses on TV ads as the answer to all a clients’ business or marketing problems.
But I still find it kind of annoying for a couple reasons. First, because I like the idea of the advertising agency at its best. I like the original notion that creative thinking and expression can have a big impact on a business. I like the breadth, flexibility and fertility of the model: the sheer number and variety of agencies, big and small, creative and integrated, interactive, independent, direct, etc, etc. I even like the name: agency: how it articulates both an organization and an action in a single word.
One of my favorite Freudian concepts is what he called narcissism of small differences, or, the fact that we tend dislike people with small differences from us, or we tend to dislike them more and more intensely than people that are very different from us. Freud’s idea was that we reserve our specially intense antipathies for the “nearly-we” because they threaten our sense of self much more strongly than the “other” or people that have nothing to do with us.