Are Binaries Doing Us Any Good? A Two-Way Q&A With Faris And Rosie Yakob, Co-Founders Of Genius Steals

We recently held a two-way Q&A with Genius Steals’ Faris and Rosie Yakob, where they asked our members some questions, and members got to ask them some questions back. It was a really good three-hour (!) conversation which we cannot possibly fully capture here, but there are three themes we think particularly stood out. This is a summary of those themes.

We talked a lot about the idea of binary, whether that’s from young vs old, traditional vs digital, organic vs paid, ownable vs not ownable, and so on. What seems to be the case is that while most of the corporate world craves the idea of simple binary choices, as strategists our job is to go beyond that and adopt, to quote Faris, a more ‘integrative’ mindset. So we shouldn’t look at things as simple black and white scenarios, but instead to be comfortable with the muddy grey where things come together towards a common goal.

1. Fighting ageism

In practical terms, this presents a lot of challenges. For example, we need to be better at finding ways to overcome the ‘ageism’ in advertising. The major narrative seems to be that this industry is for the young, when in fact age and experience can make a difference when it comes to creative problem solving.

The other part of the problem is that the industry actually doesn’t reward experience on a financial level: if we’re charging clients for time, and if the older you get the more expensive you become (because experience should have a price premium), and if clients expect more for less, then agencies are not financially motivated to put more experienced people on certain projects, because it wouldn’t be profitable for them.

‘Live fast and die young’ might be a Hollywood myth, but it doesn’t do us many favours when we know that, generally speaking, older consumers have higher buying power – and yet we often barely know or work with anyone who truly reflects that age range. So here’s a challenge: go befriend someone over the age of 50. Like, genuinely.

2. Finding the future

Another thing we talked about was what the ‘agency of the future’ looked like. But as sheer proof that we all learned from the first discussion point, it quickly became apparent that we probably wouldn’t have ‘one agency of the future’, but multiple permutations in a market that never quite stands still.

So on the one hand, we seemed to agree that while consolidation was the major trend right now, that wouldn’t mean that in ten years’ time we wouldn’t revert back to fragmentation, and back to consolidation after that. Markets evolve, and agencies evolve with them – that’s why even established agency people inevitably leave their big offices to start indie shops.

That said, one of the attendees made an interesting point about how management consultancies buying creative shops aren’t trying to compete with agencies, they’re actually trying to stay ahead of other consultancies. So Accenture might be less interested in, say, stealing work from Ogilvy, and more interested in staying ahead of Deloitte Digital. Part of that involves poaching great talent that delivers on customer experience, which often comes from agencies. The plus side? They might get compensated accordingly in terms of salary, equity and maybe even the promise of a partnership level role – one thing agencies tend to be bad at.

On the other hand, we do see companies exploring the idea of subverting the traditional ways for agencies to make money, with examples like Jules Ehrhardt (ex-ustwo) starting FKTRY, what he calls a ‘creative capital studio’ – a mix of product development, creative consultancy and venture capital. Or agencies who consistently make work that stands out, like Jung von Matt, Breakfast NY, CHIEF or Wieden+Kennedy, to name a few. The general consensus? The agency of the future is probably going to look like a lot of different things. And that’s probably a good thing.

3. Finding ourselves

It’s always encouraging to see that, when we open up these forums of discussion for people to have more conversations, we can also talk about things that are a bit more ‘real’ than, say, what a great strategy looks like. Yes, we’re talking about mental health, which we discussed briefly.

The reality is this is not a nine to five job, and with that come some taxes on our mental well-being. It can be from some projects creating a sense of panic. Burning out from doing too many hours to deliver that campaign. Having the ongoing pressure, as a strategist, to consistently perform on an intellectual level. Sometimes you might just worry about whether this is the best use of our skills. Impostor syndrome is definitely a thing in this industry.

It’s OK if you feel anxious or depressed in this line of work, and that by recognising that we’re already taking the first step to talk to someone and get some perspective. Which brings us back to the value of conversations, not just to help develop interesting work, but also to avoid losing ourselves in the process. And it’s very encouraging to see that even incredibly accomplished people like Faris and Rosie recognise these issues are ‘real’ when it comes to what we do. So if you’re worried that your problems at work are uniquely your own, branch out. Talk to someone. This works better if we work together.

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