Agencies, You’re Not Startups’ White Knights

Nyc hiding my head

I get to spend a lot of time working with startups, and connecting them with colleagues at my agency as well as clients. Most of the time, startup founders tend to be especially polite and fawning; it's great to have people around who hang on your every word, even if they're really after your clients' budgets.

Increasingly though, I get honest feedback from startups, or I hear them present to their peers and discuss their frustrating experiences trying to work with agencies (that was the situation in the photo above, where I was just trying not to be noticed). Often, they mention they have given up on agencies and only look to work with brands directly. If the brand then sends them to an agency, so be it.

This latest post in Ad Age captures what I've been hearing lately. It begins:

If someone was going to write a book about what startups think of agencies, it would be called, "They're Just Not That Into You." Agencies tend to think of themselves as startups' white knights, offering their access to clients, their years of experience understanding marketers' needs, and their shared disinterest in wearing anything more formal than J. Crew's summer collection. Startups fire back with, "Show me the money," even though many founders hadn't started grade school when "Jerry Maguire" was released.

Not all hope's lost. The byline includes a few things agencies can do better, and I'm a big believer that agencies can tap into the kinds of value that they bring to clients every day. Startups also aren't off the hook here. But as someone who's worked in the agency world for nearly a decade, there's a lot my peers can clearly do better.

Read the rest in Ad Age, and share your thoughts; there are a lot of great comments there already.