Here's My Beef With Ad Agencies

A CMO's take on why the current ad agency model is broken

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If you caught my LinkedIn post, you know I’ve got some serious beef with the current ad agency model.

I mean, let’s call a spade a spade—it’s broken. Outdated. And in desperate need of a shake-up.

Apparently, I struck a nerve because that post blew up. We’re talking over 800,000 impressions, 5,000 reactions and a flood of comments and DMs. I knew my hot take would ruffle some feathers, but I didn’t expect it to go viral.

It was equal parts validating and frustrating to see the response.

On one hand, plenty of my fellow CMOs were nodding along in agreement. But on the other, there was no shortage of agency defenders telling me I hadn’t found “the one” yet.

Newsflash: I’ve given enough agencies a shot to know it’s not a “me” problem.

So, why am I so over the traditional agency model? Let me break it down.

When I joined Taylor Morrison nearly a decade ago, we outsourced pretty much everything. But after dealing with the headaches and underwhelming results that came with that approach, one of my first moves as CMO was to start building our in-house team.

Fast forward to today, and I’ve got a marketing and communications department nearly 50 strong. And you know what? It was hands down one of the best decisions I could’ve made.

Since bringing things in-house, we’ve built a brand that means something in an industry where “brand” is usually an afterthought. People seek us out. They choose us. And that’s not by accident.

Now, I’m not saying I’m anti-agency across the board. There are times when I still need to tap outside talent. But when I do, I’m looking for something very specific and it’s not just about production capabilities.

What I need from an agency is creativity. Fresh ideas. Out-of-the-box thinking. I need them to bring a new perspective to the challenges I already know we’re facing.

But here’s the beef. So many agencies are convinced that they need to do these deep, months-long dives into the brand before they can even think about being creative. They want to run focus groups, conduct surveys and spend countless billable hours trying to “immerse” themselves.

Meanwhile, my team and I are already living and breathing this stuff every single day. We know our customers inside and out. We’ve done the research. We’ve got the insights. So, in a way, what I’m really paying an agency for is to not be immersed; it’s to bring an outsider’s perspective to the table.

But inevitably, no matter how detailed our brief is, agencies always seem to insist on this drawn-out “strategy” phase before any real work gets done.

And I get it—it’s part of their process, their revenue model. But as a CMO, it feels like I’m being held hostage. It’s the price of entry, and it’s a steep one. Because here’s the hard truth: I don’t want to outsource strategy. That’s not what I need from an agency.

If I’m coming to you, it’s because I’m looking for killer creative, not a regurgitation of the consumer insights I already have coming out of my ears.

The irony is, with so many tactical services like media buying, production and yes, even strategy being brought in-house, the one thing agencies have left to offer is their creativity. Their ability to concept big, bold ideas that move the needle. It’s their secret weapon. Or, at least, it should be.

But instead, amid all this talk about “integration” and “full-service offerings,” agencies seem to be losing sight of what makes them valuable in the first place. They’re getting bogged down in the weeds of data and analytics and, in the process, they’re letting their creative muscles atrophy.

Case in point?

When times get tough, the first thing many agencies do is cut their senior creatives to save on costs. But those are the people I’m actually hiring you for—the experienced visionaries and problem-solvers. The folks who know how to take all those data points and transform them into campaigns that make people feel something.

What the ad industry is doing today is backward. And it’s a shame.

But here’s the thing. As much as it pains me to see talented creatives getting the short end of the stick, I also think this moment presents a huge opportunity. It’s a chance for those senior leaders to strike out on their own, to build something new, better and more resilient.

To not just claim to be “partners,” but show up as true collaborators and co-conspirators. And to create the kind of work that many of my fellow CMOs, including myself, are desperately seeking. Work that is nimble, adaptable and unafraid to challenge the status quo.

Notice how I didn’t say I hope they create an agency. Because the truth is, I’m not sure they need to.

I know these creatives are out there. I’ve worked with a few of them and, because they are not an agency, they are more interested in making great work than chasing revenue or headlines. And when you find them, it’s magic.

But until going directly to creatives becomes easier, or the norm rather than the exception, I’ll be here continuing to invest in my in-house team. Because at the end of the day, I can’t afford to keep throwing good money after bad.

I’ve been burned too many times. And as much as I hate to say it, I’m not alone. CMOs talk. We compare notes. And the consensus is clear: The traditional agency model isn’t broken. The whole idea of an agency is broken.

So, consider this my plea. To agency leaders, creatives and everyone who still believes in the power of a big idea: It’s time to be bold. It’s time to take risks. It’s time to burn the old playbooks and write a new one.

Because the creative people that figure this out? The ones that aren’t afraid to put creativity first, be true partners to their clients and adapt to the way brands operate today? Those will be the creatives that don’t just survive this shift, but thrive in it.

And you can bet I’ll be first in line to work with them. Whatever they call themselves.

Even if it’s an agency.