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Have you read up on the history of W+K? I'd highly recommend it. Shoot, maybe even reach out to Dan Wieden. Or David Kennedy? First off, they didn't get badass without talented people. They hired a couple of younger, eager people. Some of the earliest employees were folks they had worked with at their previous gig (see: Susan Hoffman). And that says a lot about Mr. Wieden and Mr. Kennedy. People wanted to work for them. Even though they were not famous ad royalty, yet. Second off, they didn't start out badass. They started out tiny. They took on a nothing business, a tiny little client that could barely pay them anything. It was a new shoe company that had no real idea what it was doing. And then they focused on doing great work. With the people they had. The good people that wanted to work with them because they knew them and liked them. Also, worth reading. The Rules: http://wklondon.com/2008/08/rules/

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Thanks for the book recommendation GCD 3.

Here’s some data I’ve always found fascinating that came out of a study done of the most award winning advertising agencies. 80% of their overall work is just as transactional as everyone else’s. Make sure the logo is correct and put everything through proofreading. 20% was considered better than that. This work was more conceptual, more disruptive and/or achieved a significant business objective and press. This is what you build your agency reel with and make case studies from. 20% of that 20%, or just 4% of the agency’s total output is where they win all of their awards. 80/20/20. Identify the last two 20’s early. Dedicate extra resources in the form of freelance or your best FT’s to those assignments and you can become Wieden. Sounds easy. Only problem is figuring out which assignments have the best chance at becoming one of those 20% pieces.

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Thanks for the insight; it's similar to what I do regarding the 80/20 theory.

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Find talented people over 45 who need the work and are willing to take equity in exchange for high pay.

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This seems like a good suggestion but I was literally just in this position for a year. I had to freelance to pay the bills, and so I couldn’t put my full creative effort into the startup agency. I was tired all the time and felt like I was failing both sides. It’s hard.

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Invest in talent or you’ll have nothing

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I give some key people a new business unit based on their interest; for example, I built a small production house for my art-based CD as a gift for his loyalty. He got additional income from that business unit, plus he got his own company while still helping me with my agency.

I cant speak to what WK did because i dont work there. But ive worked in good creative agencies and bad creative agencies and I can genuinely say there are only a couple things that separate the two. Bad agencies focus on short term financial gain and allow bad/toxic talent to stick around. Good agencies get rid of toxic employees immediately and consistently invest in their top home-grown talent, even if it costs them profit margin or a client in the short run.

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Not just bad/toxic talent... bad/toxic clients.

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I mean the one thing WK had is a client—actually a relationship between Dan and Johnny Nike Whatshisname. They trusted each other. A client...who lets you do things and pays.... thats really all you need. But good luck finding that. Clients make their name now by saving money, not doing good work.

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Yeah I guess man but we’re talking about your career and years of your life, and all your money. I think you owe it to yourself to look really hard at the financial picture and whether ANY place is having any creative success right now, because they kind of arent. (Even WK has layoffs yknow) I know we’re supposed to spew positive inspo language all the time about everything, but....oof

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A talented freelancer can break a brief in a much shorter amount of time than an inexperienced junior, with much better results. Which means the cost might end up being lower in the end.

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W+K had the talent. Even back when they were your size. Are you any good at making ads? If not... why did you start an agency?

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Great advice, thanks.

I don’t have advice, but I commend you and wish you all the luck. We need more small shops striving for creative excellence. Good luck!

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Thank you, best of luck to you too.

For creatives: hire good people and get out of their way. Don't try to micromanage a team of juniors, that sounds like a good idea to save money but it doesn't work. You need to hire CDs, ACDs and Senior Creatives and give them real power. For account people and strategists: hire stone cold killers who know their job is to convince clients to buy good work, not keep clients happy. Use bonuses to incentivise them when they sell good work.

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We are at different times. Comparing what you do now to W+K will lead to frustration. You will need to figure it out a way to recognize early on talent that you can afford to hire and develop them. Dan mentions that at the beginning he hired very young talent and people who got fired that were really good. I wish I had the answer too hah. Make badass work is easier than running a profitable badass creative business.

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Fantastic post, really enjoying the responses. Best of luck to you!

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Thank you, best of luck to you too.

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Get some good clients

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One of my top priorities, thanks!

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People. Product. Profit. In that order, and no wavering. And keep overheads extremely low. No, you don't need a flashy office. And there are talented people who will want to work with you if they buy-in to your vision.

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Thank you, people are always the key to this industry. And yes, vision is crucial; thank you for reminding this.

I think and my plan recently was a co-op style bring on top freelance talent based on the project instead of full time.

How about not asking others for their ideas? When was the last time that you saw W&K crowd source any ideas. Original thought is the only badassery any true creative shop needs.

I believe everyone, including top creatives, ever discuss with friends and peers. Aspiration can come in different forms from a different sources.

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With your scenario - can’t afford top talent - and your goals, the answer is: Nothing.

Alright, thanks for the thought.

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Pretend any latest ad must be shown on your company’s home page, with no other previous ads shown.

Nice replies.

Hire some junior people who are willing to learn. Hire someone like my husband who wants to get into the industry, has limited hands-on experience but understands concepts etc., is trainable, and can start at a lower rate because his spouse has a good income. You get real world knowledge from a mature adult that is willing to take less pay so that he can change his career path. (Working from home is also a big plus!)

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