Cabell Harris, who started Work in Richmond, Va., in 1994 as "an agency for agencies," is shifting gears to go after his own clients.
"Each year our business was doing better and better," Harris said of his decision to broaden the reach of his shop. "But I'm becoming invisible. The agencies are getting the credit and the time will come when I'm not getting calls; I'm not building any equity."
Until now Harris' focus was marketing his services, as well as those of a small group of creatives around the country, to shops. "Agencies have put me on tough problems, or on accounts in trouble," Harris said. "I've always worked well with clients, and I think my batting average would be even better if I worked from A to Z on a piece of business."
What Harris is not looking to do is create a shop in the traditional sense of offering all conventional agency services, though he can take a Rolodex approach if he is wooing a client that needs account service or media.
"Our model is something like a production company," he said. "They have about 20 full-time people, and that number grows to 60 when they have a job. After the job, that group disbands."
Among the agencies Harris has worked with are TBWA Chiat/Day, New York and Los Angeles; The Martin Agency, Richmond; Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis; and Merkley Newman Harty, New York. He does not think soliciting clients will hurt his agency relationships. Harris compares his operation to the early incarnations of California's Ground Zero and Butler, Shine & Stern, when those shops straddled the fence between working with other agencies and pitching clients.