Striving for Monogamy in the Advertising World

What I've always wanted in an agency soulmate

Like most ad agency people, I spent my career moving from shop to shop, hoping to find a perfect fit. For some reason, so many of us seem to accept this state. Like serial dating but without a "meant to be" in sight.

Which is not to say I haven't liked or been proud of the agencies I've worked for. Quite the opposite. At a handful of agencies, I've worked alongside some very smart people helping to make some very braggable creative. 

But it always seemed that whenever I did do something good, somebody would get mad.

Maybe I'd broken a process because the process itself was a little broken. Or perhaps I'd "gone around" somebody or something I thought would be a barrier to the work. Or maybe I pulled in team members perfect for the project, but not "allocated" to the account. Or perhaps I ignored the lawyers.

Basically, to do good work for clients, I found you usually had to break a bunch of rules and piss some people off. But somehow, when you did, you usually had a lot more fun.

Talking with friends in the ad world, both agency and client side, it seemed like we'd all felt or experienced this. There was an undercurrent running through our business—dissatisfaction with how things worked, and breaking the system as the antidote. These were the kinds of stories you'd hear over a cocktail. A client frustrated with team cohesion or speed trying to figure out how to restructure things to get to better creative, faster. Or an agency making some creative magic with a little purpose-built group of unconventional thinkers.

We needed an antidote to what I've been hearing from agency folks and clients for years. We were all tired of the fear. The inflexibility. The lack of fun. We needed an agency structured and managed in a way that's actually supportive of making the kind of mischief that leads to great work.

After 16 years in the industry, I've narrowed it down to a few core principles I believe are essential to making great work and having fun while doing it. 


I started in this business bright eyed and bushy tailed and drawn into something that seemed like fun. I want to get back to that—to being a breath of fresh air for my teammates and clients. I want to shed the fear and defensiveness that's plaguing our industry. I want clients to find agency partners bursting with the positivity and optimism needed to make the impossible, possible.


Processes and procedures have turned too many of us into business robots. I've always found the magic is in the realness, so let's get back to being honest, empathetic and sometimes blunt. Yes, blunt. At the end of the day, relationships are about trust and mutual respect. Nobody wants to be bullshitted. Let's get back to that and solve for our clients, not sell. 


I don't want to exist in an echo chamber. I want meaningful representation that empowers the differing and dissenting opinions that lead to originality. Today, a lot of advertising looks and sounds like it was made by a very small subsection of America. Clients need us to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer and not just accept what Americans say they want, but figure out what they need. 

People above all else.

Once you reach the top, it doesn't mean you are done growing. I believe your most important reviews are from the people you manage. People shouldn't have to feel like they're shouting into the abyss. And they should be empowered to shape the future of the agency they decide to be a part of. Empowering and championing your people also means clients are more likely to get fresh perspectives from the very best in the business instead of the same idea 37 ways. 

This is what I want, and it's what I believe our business needs. Because while "dating," I learned that identifying what you don't like is as important as defining what you do when it comes to finding (or creating) your perfect match. For me, I was lucky enough that the fates put me together with Dave Lafond, Serge Rancourt and Greg Hahn, so that together we could build this dream. 

To create our agency soulmate from the ether.

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Kerry McKibbin
Kerry McKibbin is president of Mischief in New York.

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