Observation: Independent Shops are to Advertising as Farm Teams are to Baseball

By Matt Van Hoven 

This is not a new observation but its one I’d like to take a minute and mention. In speaking with ad folks from all over, I hear the same thing about agency hiring practices: strong independent shops hire the “best” kids out of school only to lose them a year or so later to bigger teams. This is how it’s done in baseball with one major difference: baseball teams own their farm leagues (usually) and can control their roster. Why don’t agencies do this?

The perennial “good talent” issue stems from the rampant poaching that goes on in this business. Like any industry with highly sought-after public figures (sports, entertainment most closely), advertising would do well to harness potentially amazing talent at an earlier stage in the game. Though there are never any guarantees that a creative mind will develop into a strong creative director or planner, it couldn’t hurt to test the waters.

This must be happening in one way or another. We hear about agencies sponsoring students, offering small scholarships, working with portfolio schools (unless you’re in Chicago) but which shop has taken it a step further and cultivated talent from the ground up?

Anyway the problem for the farm team shops is they’re constantly losing their best people to big shops. I see this as a positive problem because it means they always have the freshest, unfettered talent coming through the doors. They aren’t yet jaded by the business and might even get their hands on bigger opportunities.

These days the kids are sending their work straight to big shops like Crispin and Ogilvy and all the other big names they hear in school. But if I’m coming out of build-your-portfolio-for-$100k land, I’m heading the the shops that are beholden to their clients and their banks. Fewer filters, fewer folks surviving on what they did 10 years ago, fewer chances of getting stuck on something shitty (that makes a ton of money). Kids, be independent &#151 then get rich. Then get out.

Bad advice? Let us know.

More:Damn Kids: Are Ads Becoming too Loose-Mouthed?