By Ron Owens

Great work. Everybody talks about it, but unless you work in the right kind of advertising agency, it’s hard to do. That sounds bold, but it’s true. And it’s why the performance of creative people almost always goes up or down when they move to a new agency. If you are the manager or officer of a small agency, you’re in a unique position to help your agency produce quality work. The working environment you create either helps or hinders creative people.

Basically, three factors are important to creating an atmosphere that encourages great work, specifically, creative leadership; agency confidence; atmosphere / culture. Creative leadership is the starting point for all great work. What kind of leadership inspires great work? That’s simple. A brilliant creative agency is led by managers who are invested in the creative product. The best agencies, in fact, are led by managers who participate in the creative process.

The explanation for this is not complicated. An agency led by businessmen and businesswomen with purely business interests will demonstrate its ability only in terms of growth and profits. Almost all big agencies fall into this category. Creative managers, on the other hand, demonstrate their ability in the quality of work their agencies produce.

But the concept of creative leadership is broader than this. It goes beyond the characterization of management. It goes to the heart of its character. For the small agency, it’s suicide to accept clients who do not want great work. It’s tempting, but it’s dangerous. Because, in the end, clients make the agency.

Great clients make great agencies. Less-than-great clients make less of your agency. Because it doesn’t matter how good your work is, if your client doesn’t buy it, it doesn’t get done. So, pick your clients carefully. If they expect you to create great work, you will. And this will attract like-minded people and new business prospects to your door.

Another challenge of agency leadership is the ability to sell great work. The best advertising is often daring. For the small agency to gain a reputation for doing great work, it must do daring advertising. But this kind of advertising is often the hardest to sell, even to good clients. It comes down to how hard an agency is willing to work to sell a good idea. But even though it’s hard, it’s worth it.

Brilliant advertising, based upon sound strategy and positioning, then skillfully executed, is capable of creating breakthrough results. And results make heroes at the agency and at the client. “Breakthrough” work occurs more often than at big ones. Big agencies have too much at stake. They must play it safe. So do big clients.

Agency confidence generates the energy that creative work requires. Quality advertising does more than build reputations and sales. It builds confidence. And confidence is like a locomotive. When it comes roaring through the creative department, it pulls great ideas out of everybody.

For people who’ve never worked in the creative end of an agency, our creative director, Dave Marinaccio, states that it normally takes 30 bad ideas to produce a good one. And sometimes, it takes 10 good ideas, “ad-like objects” or concepts, to produce a great one. Success creates the confidence creative people need to keep on working when they have a “good” solution, but not a brilliant one. Dave states, “Great work takes a lot of time, and clients should give it willingly.” You’ll have a great advantage over big agencies. They cannot compete like this. The culture of the agency, in many cases, determines whether or not, good work can be done consistently.

Creative brilliance occurs only in an environment where it is expected. The creation of good work is not a magical phenomenon. It is an orderly process that must be supported by everybody at the agency.

Account people must have courage, so they can recognize and grasp a great idea and sell it. Media people should have the insight to know where and when a message will be most powerful and most believed. Cost-efficiency and cost-effectiveness are also major considerations. Production and support services should believe that their jobs are vital to the production of high-quality work. With all these people working to support the creative product, the creative department’s responsibility is clear. They must create great advertising.

In the Washington, DC and Baltimore metro areas, we are extremely fortunate to have small agencies that produce great advertising – advertising that gets results. I feel that local marketers and advertisers owe it to themselves, if they do not favorably consider, awarding their business to a local agency before taking that business to an agency outside our metropolitan areas.

Ron Owens is Past President, Ad Club of Metropolitan Washington; former Governor, 4A’s; Lt Governor, American Advertising Federation (AAF); VP, Bozell Worldwide; Co-founder & Principal, LMO Advertising; former VP, Diversity & Inclusion, TMP Worldwide and President, Ron Owens & Associates, a consultancy specializing in business development and diversity & inclusion. Ron can be reached via

Photo by Leon on Unsplash

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