A CMO's LinkedIn rant for the ages.

Sometimes you have to get out of the bed you've made.

Last week, Stephanie McCarty, the CMO of Taylor Morrison, a US-based home builder, sent the advertising corner of LinkedIn into a keyboard-bashing meltdown with this surprisingly honest rant.

Understandably, she drew the ire of many big network agency folk (I’m sure there were croissants being thrown at holding company HQs), and kicked off a furore in the comments. But she also garnered a lot of support, agreement, and understanding. That’s also the camp I was in.

Because she’s absolutely right. Agencies do spend too much time overcomplicating strategy and getting bogged down in research and obsessing over ‘patented processes’ and building gargantuan 200-slide decks, instead of doing the one thing they’re better at than anyone else - the creative. In this regard, the agency model as Stephanie describes it is inarguably broken. The only thing is - it’s the model that clients have asked for and demanded, so it’s the one they’re now stuck with. As the infamous Ogilvy quote goes, ‘clients get the work they deserve’. Sometimes you have to get out of the bed you’ve made for yourself.

But I’m speaking broadly here. Because we’re all complicit in this situation. This isn’t a dig at her at all, in fact I absolutely love how refreshingly candid her post is. It’s brave for a CMO to just put this out there. What she’s saying is right. I am an official fan. She’s tired of the bullshit in this business and just wants to do the work. So am I. It’s music to my, and I’m sure every other agency leader’s, ears. There’s no creatively-led agency on the face of the earth that wants to do endless strategy and research and analysis. We want to do the work. For those of us working at indies, or doing our own thing, it’s why we left the machine. To get shit done.

I’m sure some agency-siders are struggling with the layers of irony, and even hypocrisy, in the accusations being made. CMOs have held the sway of power for a long time now, so they hold all the keys to their own locks. You’re probably thinking: If you’re tired of spending 500k on research, then stop spending 500k on research. If you want creatives to spend more of their time on the creative, then get out of their way. If you’re tired of the big agency model, move to an indie. If you’re tired of ‘rework’, stop tweaking and feeding back on every single element of every piece of work. And if you think agencies are ‘too expensive’, consider they’re also trying to recoup your multi-million dollar career bill of unpaid labour in ‘rework’ and pitches. But bare with me here, because it’s a good thing that Stephanie has done. She’s screaming ‘FIRE!’ from inside the house. Sure, she’s also got one hand on the gas can, but it still takes guts. She’s saying the stuff agencies have been screaming about for years. (And we’re also holding that same can, if we’re honest with ourselves. We’re all this meme.)

Just last week I wrote about the importance of agencies continuing to present strong, external opinions. In January, I highlighted how imperative it was to let creatives be creative again. In July last year, I wrote about how CMOs need to rethink creative ‘return on investment’. I mean, everything she’s laid out is right here on our agency ‘About’ page - https://www.sdwm.com.au/agency. ‘Big agency talent without the bullshit’, ‘The future of creativity isn’t big soulless machines… it’s tight, experienced, agile teams, on both agency and client side, building deeper and more commercially rewarding relationships.’ It’s how we already work. We’re already on Stephanie’s side. Because she’s right.

I do hope that other CMOs that resonate with the frustrations laid out here don’t only speak up, but act. Because the truth is, we need each other. This isn’t about ‘the agency model’. That’s a bad piece of language. Agencies don’t exist in a vacuum. We don’t exist without clients. It’s about ‘the agency/client model’.

I’ve worked for a big corporation, and there’s just some things that cannot exist in that environment. You cannot internalise the brutal creative rigour that exists in an agency. You cannot internalise the weird and wonderful characters that inhabit creative departments. You cannot internalise the best talent (Sorry, but you can’t. Even if you do, they’ll soon leave. We need more stimulus than working on the same thing all the time, no matter what it is.) You cannot internalise creatively ambitious environments that encourage risk taking and experimentation. You cannot internalise people who can still see clearly because they haven’t drunk the company kool-aid. And lastly, you cannot internalise an external opinion, full stop.

Agencies and clients, both, have built these walls that now imprison us. So it’s up to us to knock them down, together.

So, to conclude, big props to Stephanie for speaking up. I love it.

The only thing I’d love more is for her, and others of her ilk, to now follow through.


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