Are creative agencies becoming 'factories'?

Ideas are being stifled by the needs of business, a survey suggests - do you agree?

ISBA's report has stirred up controversy

You might expect ISBA, a trade body that proclaims itself "the voice of British advertisers", to talk up the creative industries and how glamorous and exciting it is to work in them.

But the results of its recent 'Evaluating Creative Agency Survey' suggests that it's taking a much more realistic and practical approach to what life as a creative professional is really like in the 2010s.

A key finding of the report is that agencies are increasingly seen as "factories". And not only is that no fun for designers, it's no good for clients either. As a result, continues the report:

  • Fewer clients today find agency management proactive, or efficient at administration.
  • Clients are less satisfied with agencies' contribution to strategy and fewer now believe creative is on strategy
  • Fewer clients are now satisfied with agency cost control and agency transparency.
  • A part of the 'ideas function' of agencies appears to be worsening

Debbie Morrison, director of consultancy & best practice at ISBA, said about the findings: "A dangerous emerging precedent appears to be the perception amongst clients that their creative agencies have lost the high ground in ideas generation, profundity of thinking and proactivity.

"Compared to 15 years ago fewer clients now find agency management proactive and believe creative to be on strategy! Allowing the 'ideas function' of an agency to diminish in clients' eyes is a slippery road indeed. No agency wants to be viewed as just a factory!"

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Long-standing client/agency relationships are more likely to be trusting and the longer the relationship the more likely clients believe that production is on time and on budget
  • Larger agencies are seen as having a TV-centric view and being less collaborative than smaller agencies, which are seen to be media channel neutral
  • Clients with international agreements are less likely to be satisfied with agency performance and score low in all KPIs, except for their ability of delivering digital

The survey, which is available to members to read in full, was conducted by the Advertising Research Consortium (ARC), which emailed 945 marketing and procurement contacts (provided by ISBA) between February and April 2014 and received 93 completed surveys.

Its findings have been criticised by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) which characterised them as out-of-date and based on too low a sample to be representative.

But what do you think? Do you feel like you work in a "design factory"? Do you think the industry is stifling ideas in favour of process? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!