How Agency M&A Fueled The Rise of Independent Collaboration

By January 28, 2016 Blog No Comments

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After some bleak years, things are looking up in the brand building business. Actually, the view today is rather exciting, because we’re realizing a silver lining amidst the relentless mergers and acquisitions that have rocked our industry the past few decades. As the giants aggregated increasingly unwieldy networks, they opened an avenue to major brand work for a new class of consultancy-inspired independents, many formed as a response to that painful merger activity.

Insiders recognize that most marketing M&A served shareholders but had a crushing impact on the work and integration. Worse, as agency leadership swung to the cost-cutters, frustrated talent headed for the exits, looking for new ventures where the work might matter as much as the margin.

We know because that’s been our path. Exploring new alliances has made this business truly rewarding again, for us and many others across an array of marketing disciplines.

Today’s independents are fundamentally different than the young, creative-centric boutiques of ten or fifteen years ago. Highly specialized, socially networked and outcome focused, they are more likely to be mini-entities of two, four, or a few dozen experts who bring exceptional experience and capabilities to bear on brand challenges, free of the politics, the overhead and the quality-sapping pressure of delivering a 20% margin to a holding company mothership.

As we continue to iterate Fetrow Ryan & Partners in pursuit of the kinds of challenges we love, independent collaboration has proven incredibly rewarding. And it’s come in a variety of forms. In just a few short months, we’ve worked in collaborations driven by the client, collaborations formed by colleagues to serve a client, even collaborations with traditional agencies leveraging our backgrounds to fill a gap in their own capabilities. In the process, we’ve grown closer to our clients’ business challenges, developed a better understanding of new disciplines, and expanded our creative ideas into a wider range of business needs, from brand definition to product design, from event planning to direct mail. Yes, direct mail. It’s been tremendous.

But beyond making our jobs more rewarding, collaboration delivers the massive benefits of bespoke customization to our clients.

In a business driven by talent and people, client work improves exponentially by addressing specific business challenges with exactly the right skill sets from perfectly cast people, as opposed to simply whoever’s available.

Or worse, whoever fits profitably inside increasingly strained margin demands.

Does this mean general agencies are dead? Hardly. Most clients value convenience and simplicity over next level marketing work, and that’s a perfectly valid decision.

But fortunately, there are clients who share our belief that winning attention through creative inspiration and innovation is marketing’s primary challenge today. Partnering with these types of clients is massively rewarding, despite the nights and weekends, because we all want our work to matter.

Independent collaboration provides us with opportunities on major brands, despite our small size. We get to learn and polish our craft alongside proven experts and specialists. And the resulting work is significantly smarter and more suited to today’s landscape.

To a holding company, it probably looks like we’re working at the fringes of the industry. But if you believe this business is fundamentally creative, you’ll realize these collaborations are not really the margins.

They’re the forefront.

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About the Author:

Dennis Ryan

Dennis Ryan is a creative thinker who has built a successful career out of embracing change. Currently, he’s innovating brand expressions as a principal at Fetrow Ryan & Partners in Minneapolis.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

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How Agency M&A Fueled The Rise of Independent Collaboration