Neil Dawson of Dawson Pickering: why now is the right time for creatives to start their own agency

OK I accept it’s not for everyone. Many creatives want the comfort of a big agency environment around them. And that’s fine. But if you yearn for something different, something of your very own, then start your own agency. Have a go. Be as brave as you tell your clients to be.

Here are a few thoughts on how and why you should start your own place.

Start presenting your own work to clients

Meet them, take the time to understand the pressures they are under, put yourself in their shoes.

Most clients love hearing directly from the creatives. What inspired you, what was your thought process.

Don’t worry about ‘not being a great presenter’. Take your time. Be methodical. Most clients prefer to hear something a little rough but from the heart rather than polished but second hand.

Pick the brains of industry figures you trust and admire

Most good people are happy to share their wisdom and experiences. Most creative heads of agencies are only too happy to see/help other creatives start companies. I have the good fortune to be able to chat with Tim Delaney (Leagas Delaney) and Alistair King (King James South Africa, below) – both very talented creatives in their own right, but also founders of extremely successful, creative agencies. For example Al tells a great story of holding his nerve and being faithful to who they were, despite a string of unsuccessful pitches when he first founded the agency.

Find people you can trust who share your values 100 per cent

Take your time to find the right ones. This industry is full of really talented and interesting people with only the odd charlatan lurking about. When you’ve found the right people, grab them but crucially – DO NOT give up control. The default setting for creatives is to let someone else lead. Bring in whoever you want to help run the company – MD, FD etc – but ultimate control of the agency must stay with you. You didn’t give up being a big agency bitch just to be someone else’s!

Why now is a great time to start a creative agency

Firstly: clients are becoming more comfortable dealing with smaller, specialized suppliers, because they know they are going to get great creative and value for money.

Secondly: the homogenization of agencies seems to be spreading at pace. Sooner or later clients will start to realize their work is looking more and more like their competitors. Unsurprisingly, since in some cases it comes out of the same building. The most stark evidence of this I’ve witnessed was the Milan office of a well-known holding company. At one end of the building a door says Welcome to one of their agencies. In the middle of the building a door says Welcome to another. At the other end the door says Welcome to a third agency they own. Once through security, one corridor connects all three agencies and they share facilities and people. And this particular holding company is not alone – several are moving in this direction, which has to be an opportunity for young, passionate creative agencies.

This is a creative business so more creatives should start businesses. It’s a fallacy that creatives aren’t good with clients or at business. Have a go, it might not be easy but it’s the most exciting and rewarding job you will ever have.

unnamed-2-e1416905536872-300x286Neil Dawson is a co-founder of Dawson Pickering.

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