Entrepreneurial leadership isn't just confined to independent agencies

The recent acquisitions of Creature and Goodstuff show that entrepreneurship is valued both within and without the holding companies

By jeremy lee

Fans of received wisdom will know that there’s no opportunity like a recession for entrepreneurs to go it alone and launch their own start-up agency. With the Bank of England predicting that inflation (currently at 7 per cent) will peak at 10 per cent in the autumn, which will be followed by a 1 per cent contraction in the size of the UK economy in the last quarter of the year and growth in 2023 averaging zero per cent, it’s very possible that we’ll see a host of new start-ups on the horizon. Bracing times – both good and bad.

UK advertising has always attracted an unfair share of entrepreneurs compelled to launch their own business regardless of the gloomy macro-economic projections on the evening news. Equally, there’s always been bold marketers prepared to back a new agency business in return for levels of personal service that larger agencies with a broad client base and hungry shareholders sometimes struggle to deliver.

This enduring and inherent entrepreneurial streak is one of the main reasons that London, and the UK, punches above its weight on the international advertising stage; it’s also what keeps the industry as a whole fresh and vibrant, forever moving forwards. The gene pool can regenerate.

Little wonder, then, that UK independent agencies have always been attractive targets for global holding companies – both large and small – as they seek to add some intellectual or creative heft (and most likely both) to their offering. In the last few months Goodstuff and Creature have proved attractive to acquisitors, while industry speculation is giddy about why, when and to whom Uncommon will sell. On the flip side, it’s brilliant to see long established independents like Mother, St Luke’s and Total Media still thriving.

But there are fewer independent agencies to buy now and the best – Mother, say – might never be for sale. And the most intriguing new ventures – Mischief @ No Fixed Address and the new business that David Kolbusz, ex-Droga5, is about to unveil - are happening in New York, not London.

So how do big established agencies inspire and nurture an entrepreneurial spirit from the inside? Of course it’s about giving leaders a genuine sense of ownership over the business, the space to make decisions (and mistakes), and some real upside in the game. It is also about hiring a new generation of leaders that bring with them an innate quality of adventure and energy. You just have to look at AMV’s Sam Hawkey, adam&eveDDB’s Tammy Einav, McCann’s Polly McMorrow, Saatchi’s Chris Kay and TBWA’s Larissa Vince to see there’s a new race being run now by holding groups - which is not singularly predicated on buying hot-shops. It’s much more than that. To remain relevant they’re investing in the right kind of leadership that believes in creating the right kind of creative cultures that will ultimately drive growth.

Ultimately entrepreneurialism can and should be able to thrive within holding companies, and the best parent companies recognise and nurture this by making space for that spirit and by hiring the right people to encourage it. 

Equally, a laser-focussed attention to client service is something that does not necessarily exist in isolation in the independent sector as our feature on the rise of chief client officers reveals.

We continue to live in exciting unexpected times.


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