Carl Johnson of Anomaly: why 2016 offers opportunities for agencies brave enough to tell the truth

I haven’t had a real rant for a long time. And I have the luxury of (blind) faith and age to insulate me from opinions other than my partners, our people and our clients.

So I relished the opportunity to consider what lies ahead and what we might all hope for next year.


Success? A flourishing bottom line? Good people? Great Ideas? Enlightened clients? Industry media that are aware of, and understand, you? To learn something new?

Sure – all of this. Who wouldn’t?

But it’s getting harder and harder isn’t it?

Everything is so complex and getting less clear, not more clear.

It’s why, despite all the exciting new possibilities in front of us all, I have previously referenced Dickens with ‘The Best of Times…Worst of Times’ quote.

What does ‘media’ mean these days? Or ‘creative’? Or ‘digital’? How about ‘technology’?

Which side of the brain will matter more?

Budgets keep getting squeezed but some of the best ideas cost nearly nothing to execute so what’s the problem?

Some of the most talented people around don’t conform to any departmental description that we recognize. We know they’re hugely valuable in any conversation looking for solutions to business problems but it’s not straightforward to pigeon-hole them into existing staffing structures. How the hell do you justify that to either Paris, New York or a client – if you have to?

Some briefs are so open it’s not clear who should be addressing them – the ad agency? Social? PR? Media? Digital? All of the above? Or none of them?

Aren’t ‘acts’ way more important than ‘ads’ for brands in this transparent world anyway?

And who gets that brief?

What’s for sure is that no-one has the ‘right’ to any brief any longer (although plenty are mistakenly under the impression they do).

Familiar questions to everyone.

At our company we don’t have all of the answers for sure.

But we do have the most important North Star to address the issues – the ability to answer honestly. With absolute conviction. Powered by the truth.

And that is a huge competitive advantage.

So huge it is almost impossible to overstate.

With every piece of wood within reach touched, every finger crossed and every ounce of complacency crushed, I can honestly say that for us it is the best of times.

Beyond talent, effort and culture – which we’re fortunate to have plenty of – the power of the truth is remarkable.

Think how strong you feel when you have it on your side when facing any issue or client and how weak when you are ‘blagging/spinning/dissembling/account managing’ the situation.

Now think of the hard questions that will be increasingly be asked:

*Would you ever recommend a solution to a client’s problem that you didn’t yourself provide? Or are you a man with the proverbial hammer seeing only nails?

*Does it make any difference financially to you how effective your work is?

*Does the integrated holding company team recommendation reflect the best interests of the client or the distribution of political power across the group companies?

*Do the time sheets you fill in even remotely reflect either the team focusing on the business or more importantly the value of the output?

*If it was your money what would you really do?

For structural, financial, political or even egotistical reasons these are extremely difficult questions for many in the industry who cannot answer with honesty, giving an immediate advantage to those who can.

In an increasingly pressured economy, with increasing competition for both clients and agencies, this is where we are heading. And truth will out.

The winners will therefore be as always: the talented, the ambitious and the hard working but, increasingly, it will also be the honest…and that’s the revolution open to all.

I finish somewhat harshly with George Orwell – “In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Carl Johnson is the founding partner and global CEO of Anomaly.

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