Michelle Yeadon of Weirdo: retainers – a safety blanket that’s smothering adland’s DE&I

We already know that more diverse teams perform better, but the truth is that there’s only so much improvement you can get from reshaping your permanent team.

Don’t get me wrong – I still think this is a really important effort. But we need to take more radical action.

Agencies everywhere want high value and long-standing relationships with clients. It’s how they can ensure some financial stability. What I’m describing is a place of safety, comfort and confidence for agency leaders. A place that is even more attractive in times of economic uncertainty, like now.

But the result of being in this more stable scenario is that brands are hearing the same voices, week after week, month after month, and in some cases, year after year.

Some consistency and oversight is needed, but there’s a lot of homogeneity that is getting in the way of great creative work, and it comes down to the flow of people from project to project, a flow that is often not there.

More nimble agencies experience this less – they are better placed to bring in different voices as they flex according to need and often lean heavily on project-based work rather than retainers.

In fact, it’s the retainer system that is holding the industry back, and it’s time for system change.

If agencies and brands want to see a much greater inclusion and diversity shift to really propel their creative output, they need to be willing to break the system and build a new one. Here are four key changes to make:

  1. No fixed creative teams. A greater flow of creative minds from project to project, with fresh perspectives on every brief and a greater openness to collaborate with others is essential.
  2. New leadership. The primary role of an agency should be to curate teams from mostly independent creatives, build great supportive relationships with them and manage their collaborative efforts. There should be new senior roles responsible for thinking about how internal and external teams work together.
  3. More appetite for risk. Risk sounds like a scary thing to lean into, but for great creative output, you need to embrace risk. The solution here comes in how you set up your finances to hedge your bets and have a cushion ready for when the sands shift.
  4. Saying goodbye more often. It’s a natural human behaviour to want to repeat the conditions that led to success in the past – but the present is not the past, and you need to be more willing to move on, to say farewell to great people and wish them the best on their next project. This goes for brands too – wave goodbye to your agencies more often.

It’s time to move on from fixed teams, to build deep collaborative relationships with independent creatives, to embrace risk and to embrace constant change, for the sake of diversity and inclusion, and ultimately for the sake of better creative work.




Michelle Yeadon, co-founder & strategy director, Weirdo. Clients include Bumble, Gymshark & Nike. Weirdo’s ‘Ray’s Fashion Parlour’ for Arsenal FC was an MAA ad of the week in December.

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