3 Burning Questions (and Answers) About Indie Agencies

Leaders from Lg2, The Shipyard and Brownstein Group on the benefits of being independent

Adweek's Summer Series Live Virtual Summit kicked off with a lightning round of questions for 3 indie agency leaders. Adweek
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During Adweek’s Breaking the Mold: Creating Long-Term Success for Independent Agencies Live Virtual Summit today, Adweek senior editor of agencies Doug Zanger and agencies reporter Minda Smiley posed questions to three thought leaders about the pressing issues facing independent agencies today.

Erin Allsman, executive vice president and managing director of Brownstein Group; Julie Dubé, partner and executive vice president of Lg2; and John Sydnor, chief growth officer at The Shipyard, discussed what it’s like to lead the indie lifestyle, sharing insights and, occasionally, laughs.

Check out the full session below as well as some key takeaways from the lightning round:

The best things about being independent

One of Allsman’s favorite perks of being part of an independent agency is the ability to take full accountability for both successes and failures. “We are the authors of our own stories,” Allsman said.

Dubé noted that the best feature of the independent agency lifestyle is that when you wake up in the morning, you get to choose why you are waking up and how you will build something greater than yourself.

There have been many sleepless nights, especially during the pandemic, Dubé said, but it’s also hardened her resolve. “You develop so much resilience you know that nothing makes you afraid anymore,” she said.

Sydnor highlighted one of the biggest advantages of not having to go through the hierarchy of organizational complexity to tick tasks off a checklist. “At The Shipyard, we have broken down silos internally,” Sydnor explained. “You know, we have a data analyst, a strategist, our creative team, our media team, and we’ll all go forward, arm in arm, to a client.” He said he’s found that clients have understood the efficiency of breaking down silos, which has, in turn, inspired clients to cut to the core of their own organizations.

The talent and clients best suited to work for and with indie shops

Sydnor said he’s found there are at least three personality traits that all independent talent workers tend to possess: They are ultracompetitive, entrepreneurial and mission-driven. “They take ownership of projects as a natural way of doing business,” Sydnor said, adding that “they tend to be fearless because the business market that we are in today is unheard of.”

Per Sydnor, people who are prone to taking a metaphorical magnifying lens and looking at what they can do better typically have better relationships with independent agencies, because they have similar purpose-driven models and clients love to know that the people working with them have the same passion for doing things right.

“A lot of times, we have to be like a duck,” Allsman said. “We have to let things roll off of our backs like water off of a duck’s back and just be able to pivot.”

Many of the people at Allsman’s Philadelphia-based agency, she said, are tenacious, hungry and want to do great work via collaboration and a willingness to roll up their sleeves when wading through inevitable changes.

Why brands should care about working with indies

Allsman drew a comparison to working with an independent agency from an unlikely source: a green smoothie. “I think we are pure,” she said. “We’re made of five natural ingredients. We’ve got creativity, we’ve got passion, we’ve got grit, we’ve got empathy and we’ve got discipline. We have no artificial sweeteners, no additives and no other motivations.”


@monicroqueta monica.zorrilla@adweek.com Mónica is a breaking news reporter at Adweek.
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