July 12, 2018

Building Trust in the Project Era Thunderdome

By Kyle Taylor / Founding Partner

In this world, only the smart survive.

No, not the strong. Dinosaurs were strong; that didn’t help them much. Humans may be squishy, but they’re constant innovators and resilient as hell. And they’re really good at working together (most of the time). It’s the only way we’ve survived these worlds, agency and planetary, for as long as we have. But that’s life - you have to prove that you deserve it every day.

The project era of advertising shows that in spades.

Wait, what’s a project era?

The way our industry is changing recently, it’s becoming less and less of the AOR model where you’re signed up for a year with large seven-figure budgets. There are still those types of relationships, but more and more we’re seeing brands of all sizes moving towards more project-based engagements. Yeah, that means you have to put the same high level of care into every project regardless of size or budget, but we have no problem with that so long as the client is respectful.

Would it be more financially predictable to be more annualized? Sure, but if you’re investing passion and craft into everything you do, one project becomes ten projects. Ten projects becomes a relationship built on trust, not billings. You pay off that trust again and again until suddenly you have a process and people and communication built around the right tenants of working. Personally, I like that better than the traditional RFP/AOR structure.

AOR-level relationships can be great, I’m not disparaging the model and there are plenty of relationships between amazing agencies and clients that work really, really well. But there’s a natural temptation built into that old system to get a little bit lazy. When you go through that pitch process and win, it’s easy to exhale and relax your standards and the best work that ever leaves your door is what went into the pitch. Over time, the work (and, consequently, the relationship) starts to degrade until the B team is on it, then the C team and so on. That’s not fair to the client, and you’ll inevitably end up fired. Then the cycle starts all over again for someone else.

We think it’s an awesome thing to be constantly on your toes, working, building that relationship and proving it. To us, building trust in a project era is just trying to get better every day, coming in to work, caring a lot, and proving it constantly.

This doesn’t have to be a cutthroat industry, but it will always be competitive and that’s a good thing. It keeps us lean, mean, and ready for the next challenge. That’s the great thing about the Thunderdome; if you keep fighting well, you never have to leave.

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