The Overhead of Ego.

Written By on January 18, 2018

I once worked at an agency that couldn’t afford the building it was in. It was literally four or five times larger than what made any logical sense. Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful space – but it was an albatross hanging heavily around the necks of everyone. The agency simply couldn’t make enough money to pay for the walls and square footage—yet we remained. Long after we should have. Because of ego. (And despite my best efforts.)

Ego is what makes a business move into a building they can’t afford and to put on airs about their success. “Look how successful we are!” When you start an agency the pressure to compete on that level is extremely hard to resist. This agency has a great new building. This other agency installed monkey bars across their entrance. This one has a heliport! On and on it goes.

So far at Magnetry, we have resisted. We have a humble physical office that is perfect for our team, without a whole lot of fuss. It’s not impressive, we could afford more, and some shops might turn their noses down on it. But it works. Literally and figuratively. That doesn’t mean we are staying put forever (we’re starting to get a little full,) but we will always be in an office that is less than what we can afford and we will always put our resources into what we create and into what really matters.

The reason a client comes to an agency (beyond stellar ideas – which we’ll talk about soon) is for that agency to be good stewards of their marketing dollars. It’s a fairly simple and reasonable expectation that unfortunately a lot of agencies get a little skittish about. One of the reasons I started Magnetry was so that I could look clients in the eye and tell them without hesitation that we put more of our budgets into the work than anyone. This makes the work creatively better, the results better and our clients happier. And while providing value isn’t the ultimate goal, it makes doing the best work of our lives every day possible. There’s very little room for the irrelevant in our office. Like a specific address, or a self-promotion onslaught, or entering awards that don’t matter. Everything you see an agency promote, the clients pay for it, and we are careful how we spend our client’s money. Just because I would be embarrassed by how others do so, doesn’t mean they are wrong—that’s their business. We simply have a different approach.

Our space may be simple, but it does have personality. 

In an industry all about image, we feel like prioritizing substance is a great differentiator. We aspire to have more bite than bark. This means we may be a bit quieter than other shops. (We love doing the work much more than pointing at it later—we the proverbial, reluctant self-promoters.) You may never gasp at our new office space at whatever the cool address of the moment is; but we have everything we need to make you react to the ideas we present. That’s when we want you excited and speechless.

Creativity is brutally simple. (Not easy but simple.) Early on, I asked myself what do we need to create? What will Magnetry’s talent need to do the type of work I want to encourage? I wrote this short list as the answer back in 2013:

  1. Functional personal space. Clean, modern, no fuss.
  2. The best tools and tech for the job. (This isn’t cheap.)
  3. Time to work. Time for professional development.
  4. Information and data.
  5. A boss who will fight for their ideas.
  6. The knowledge that if a client left, they still have a job.
  7. Compensation attached to agency success.

I don’t believe that many shops operate this way, because most are run by bankers or account people on a paper-thin margin. You’d think these financial-sensitive leaders would put a priority on spending responsibly, but instead, they put the priority on squeezing every extra minute of productivity out of their team as possible, so they can turn around and afford a penthouse view and other ego-driven overhead. They simply penny pinch on their people and the work, so they can lavish on the veneer of the image business. (This is particularly true in this market, where insecurity seems to rule the day.) The work suffers as a direct result of being bureaucratic, building-rich, and overly account-managed. Employees are hired and fired in sync with business wins or losses. Productivity increases while the work becomes more predictable. Owners try to keep up with the shops in LA. Award show entry fees get paid before the workers get a raise. Image at all costs.

It could be my blue-collar background, but this just isn’t me, even if it makes us look less successful than we really are. I’m okay being the sleeper agency in an industry of show-offs.

I’m most proud of the people we’ve put together. Some pictured below. 

There’s a great metaphor when race teams are preparing a car. On the track, everything that doesn’t make a race car go faster, is thrown out. No AC. No passenger seats. No lights. No dead weight. It all goes, so they can get a little lighter, a M.P.H. faster, or just a tick more aerodynamic. We’ve followed a similar model. We’ve thrown out a lof of bureaucracy, layers, rules, roles and old methods all in the name of doing better work. This doesn’t make for the prettiest agency in the world, but that’s not our goal. We’re in it to be the leanest and meanest creative agency you can find, not necessarily the one with the coolest space or biggest mouth.

We invest in our people and in our ideas and not a whole lot else. We’re focused on making the very next project great which is difficult enough. Our hope is that the rest will take care of itself.  Ego be damned.

(That would look really good on a flag.)