The 6 things that got so much better after I started working at an independent, small advertising agency

March 17, 2021 • 5 minute read

To be honest, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to work at a smaller advertising agency—especially a new one. After spending my whole career at larger, holding company-owned agencies, I thought I’d end up like many of the creatives who came before me, floating between the same 5-10 big shops throughout the course of my time in the industry and eventually going freelance once I’d had enough of the traditional agency shop bureaucracy/politics. 

When an opportunity arose to work with Fwd People, a female-owned and-run agency that is purposefully small and consultative in nature, I couldn’t turn it down. After recognizing industry shifts and rifts between the way agencies operate and what modern marketers need, Fwd People built a more nimble offering designed to make them a truly strategic partner to clients.

It only took a few weeks at Fwd People to know that I had made a really good decision, collaborating with an awesome team of strategic and creative thinkers to launch major products and lay the foundations of lasting brand identities—all while building an agency we’d all be proud to work for together. 

So, what made me take the leap?

Eventually, I came to realize that the things I had always thought were annoying, run-of-the-mill staples of the advertising business were actually leftover pieces of an outdated way of working—from a time before shrinking marketing budgets and the growth of internal agencies at large companies. The agency model I had been working in was just too big, with way too many layers to meet the needs of any client. With Fwd People, I saw an opportunity to be a part of something that was better for everyone.

With every project I took on at Fwd People, I noticed that I was already working within a much more functional construct, with room for a kind of creativity I hadn’t had the opportunity to dig my brain into before.

Here are 6 major benefits I’ve experienced since starting at Fwd People, all of which have led to me (frankly) being a happier, more fulfilled person who has the mental space and energy to be creative both in and outside of my job.

1 – Goodbye, silos!

Let’s face it: everyone working at a large agency has complained about the unnecessary layers and silos at some point. When you’re dealing with a gigantic organizational structure, they are basically unavoidable, especially when that structure is trying to integrate a digital offering. How can you be creative when you’re set up for approval by (internal) committee—the one thing we advise clients not to do?

Due to the fact that we’re intentionally small at Fwd People, there are no silos. We have roles and responsibilities, but we do not have departments that create an us versus them mentality. We divvy up work on projects together, but then pass those projects seamlessly between one another in a close-knit system that allows us all to infuse our own areas of expertise into the final product.

There is no creative versus account. No copy versus art. At Fwd People, there are just experts who all have a stake in each and every project—and no egos, attitudes, and infighting ultimately makes for better work.

2 – Brand and digital integrated from the start

Let me go back to the idea of digital integration for a second here. I worked at a number of large agencies that had two separate strategy departments: one for brand, and one for digital. Whenever there was a pitch or a job that involved them working together, it was tense. Roles were not clearly defined, toes were easily stepped on, and I spent a lot of time making sure each department was communicating clearly so that I could do my job.

When Fwd People began, we all had experiences like that in our memory banks, and we asked ourselves the following question: what does it look like to have brand and digital integrated from the start? We realized that with this new agency, we had an opportunity to build a foundation that did exactly this—again, without silos! 

As a result, every project we take on is viewed through both lenses simultaneously: what could this mean for our clients’ brand, and how does that translate across the digital landscape? It not only ensures we’re delivering relevant brand experiences, but it’s allowed me to understand digital capabilities in new ways.

 3 – Re-defining my capabilities

I’ll be SUPER transparent here: this aspect of working at a small agency is not for everyone. If you thrive working within a certain lane, that is totally valid. But if you’re an account person who has a knack for writing, or a creative who prioritizes your work like a project manager, then a smaller, more flexible agency may help you fully realize the extent of your capabilities.

 Because of the way Fwd People is structured, we all wear different hats. My primary background and area of expertise is creative writing, but this summer, I learned how to  remotely direct 5 documentary-style interview videos for a brand launch. Our brand strategist, Alistair Bedford, is incredible at digging into brands and defining their purpose, but he’s also come up with kickass copy and campaigns for some of our biggest clients.

 Working small has helped us all re-define what we’re capable of, and it’s given me an opportunity to understand and appreciate other agency/vendor roles in a way that’s strengthened my professional partnerships across the board.

4 – Happy client = happy life

Before I joined Fwd People, I had never seen agencies able to meaningfully help clients with internal politics. With so many layers, I think that the large agencies I worked for found it difficult to truly partner with their clients in ways that enhanced their internal dealings. 

With Fwd People, we’re the right size to become an extension of all our client teams—consulting on any issues they come across internally and helping them problem-solve to achieve their organizational goals. Because of that, and the fact that we’re able to deliver great, highly tailored creative work in record time, our clients are just happier. 

And when our clients are happy, we’re happy. We can do our jobs better, because we know that we’re doing them right.

5 – The right people are the key decision makers

If you’ve worked for a large agency, you know this is huge. How many times did I see clients get upset that the executives who pitched for and won their business were nowhere to be found when it came to working on their projects? How about watching those same senior-level people weigh in to kill concepts or campaigns that we knew hit the brief and would resonate with the audiences we had spent all our time researching and writing for—particularly after not being available to support the work? 

At Fwd People, my colleagues and I not only pitch for the business we win, but we work on every aspect of it. We are so ingrained in the business objectives and audience insights of our clients that we are able to quickly and efficiently produce work that hits the mark they’re looking to achieve—without having to repeatedly present our cases internally to people who have little to no background about the brand or creative challenge.  

It saves time. It saves stress. It saves needless, unnecessary rounds of revision. And it saves our clients having to make amends and comments they shouldn’t have to—leading to better, more relevant creative work from the start.

6 – Where there’s creative freedom, there’s good creative

Which leads to my last point—creative freedom. I’ve talked a bit here about delivering better creative work at Fwd People, but it’s due to all of the reasons above that I’m able to do that. With a more agile structure, a better working relationship with my colleagues, opportunities to grow and challenge myself outside of my normal realm of expertise, and clients who are more satisfied with their deliverables, I have the brain space to come up with creative campaigns and concepts that are unique but relevant to their categories.

And I don’t do it alone. When working at a small-to-medium sized agency, there are no one-person shows. We all have deep knowledge of each brand, so we toss ideas around together until we’ve come up with something that really sticks—and with creative freedom, we have fun doing it.

At Fwd People, we believe that the approach we’ve taken is one that we’re going to see more and more of in the industry moving forward. And as a creative who’s worked all over the place, I can definitively say that this agency model is more productive for everyone involved and certainly drives better outcomes for clients.

If you’d like to learn more about what an agency like ours could do for your business, get in touch. We’d love to help you make progress.

And if this sounds like the type of environment you’d like to work in, contact us here.

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