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For me, Bandits & Friends started with a text from an old colleague. For my partners, Danny Gonzalez and David Suarez, it’s been in the works for 20 years.
There’s plenty to discourage people from breaking out to do their own thing. New business is dry. Pitching is expensive. The dilution of focus to satisfy so many mediums and channels and “keep up with the speed of culture” but also “build me a recognizable brand viable for the long term” makes it difficult to staff. The debate over whether there is even a way to differentiate a new agency offering.
But then I remembered—advertising should be fun. And I remembered the adrenaline I used to get the night before a launch, and wanting to feel that again.
So, I responded to the text. After a few meetings with Danny and David, I jumped in.
Starting with a name and identity
We started with kicking options around for a name. It feels like a natural place to begin building your identity and, practically, you need some version of it to file official paperwork.
After a few hiccups, like names that would pose trademark issues and a close call with a defunct Belgian boy band, we landed on Bandits & Friends. What made us embrace the name is that it communicates our ethos: In a world full of distractions, attention cannot be bought—it has to be stolen with entertaining work. And as project-based contracts have become the norm, we didn’t want the transactional relationships that come with them. We believe clients should be treated like friends.
Again, advertising should be fun.
As Danny and David had already been partners for 20 years, they already had a shorthand. They have an innate sense of each other’s values and expectations. What was important to me as a next step was sorting through what would become shared agency values.
We needed to be able to describe our offering, as we didn’t yet have a body of work that could speak for itself. Danny and David made a conscious decision to go outside of their immediate network to bring in a third founder who could manage the business side of things. More importantly, they wanted representative perspectives and a complementary set of capabilities that would signal our modernity.
How we communicate our experience—that market coverage of capabilities and our inherently diverse DNA beyond saying, “Hey, we’re led by a woman and two Cuban guys”—has been where we’ve spent the majority of our energy. You don’t want to know how many iterations of our creds and website we’ve gone through.
Launching with clients
This methodical approach to who we are and what we offer is one of the reasons we were able to land clients so early. Even though in this new form we were an unknown entity to many of these new
clients friends, they understood what we could do for them.
This was a very measured consideration for our launch; we weren’t launching publicly until we had clients. Having clients for whom we were managing major campaigns was key to legitimizing us as an agency, and not being seen as freelancers.
Agreeing early on regarding who we are and who we are not—and being very honest with ourselves about what we can pull off as a small agency—has also been very helpful in deciding what not to pursue. When you no longer have personal income coming in, it can be too easy to chase down the wrong things. To take anything that comes your way. We will always take a call, but exit the conversations quickly when it doesn’t feel like a mutual fit.
Agencies have always been terrible at following the same advice we give our clients. But one thing we’ve been very clear about is that we cannot be for everyone.
It’s good to be small
We’ve trained ourselves to not be apologetic about being a small agency. Actually, let’s borrow a trick from real estate and rebrand “small” as “boutique.”
As a boutique creative agency that’s only been open for business for two months, clients aren’t coming to us for what a holding company would do; they come to us wanting badass creative that will produce an outsized market reaction. One of the big benefits of being small is that we don’t really believe in a scope of work. We believe in building partnerships with reasonable clients based on people, time and objectives, which can be applied both to project- and retainer-based engagements.
If an agency is basing its entire fee and model on a scope of work, the team inherently does not understand digital, social and cultural relevance. New social platforms appear overnight. Best practices change with algorithm updates. It’s not responsible to lock in specific deliverables a year out because then you’ll spend half the fee renegotiating the contract mid-year.
No one is claiming this is an easier route to take, and it certainly requires a level of trust that no one will fleece the other, but it’s another strategy of trying to be better.
Ultimately, we all just want to be successful, right? But for us to be successful, we have to make our clients successful first, which means creating effective work that solves business problems. Clients come first, the work is in service of the clients, and the rest will follow.
It all started with a text, and now I hope to leave a legacy in the industry.
This article is part of an ongoing Voice series that will take a behind-the-scenes look at new agencies in their first year of business.