Déjà Vu Vu Vu

Here comes trouble, back for another agency dunkfest. The only question: Exactly how many agencies will kick and bite for their chance to make a free million-dollar speculative presentation?

Sorry, but we won’t be there.

Burger King could legitimately say that we haven’t been invited, and never in a million milk shakes would we even be considered.

But that’s beside the point.

Quietly, in a world where the difference between giant agency networks is whether or not they’re owned by Sir Martin Sorrell, new kinds of companies are emerging.

Curiously, the most intriguing of these upstarts are turning their backs on the traditional advertising agency model—and trying something different.

Our little experiment in the Flatiron Building is a case in point.

The Gardner-Nelson Project creates advertising for new brands getting started, and for older ones that want a fresh start. We’ve gathered a small band of experienced partners, and we’ve never handled more than three or four projects at a time. But the real key? We only work on a project basis.

The rest of the agency business is built on the illusion that clients want relationships. The evidence is overwhelming that only agencies do. Clients want something else.

A handful of smart advertisers, like IBM, Anheuser Busch, Nike, and American Express, want great advertising, and the relationships sort themselves out. But there are not enough of these smart clients, so even the best agencies are forced to chase less-than-terrific clients to keep the machines running.

Been there. Done that.

At our alma mater, Ammirati Puris Lintas, where we were president (Steve) and co-creative director (Tom), dozens of dedicated co-workers kept Burger King quiet for a few years with a sweet little campaign involving nothing more than food, music and wit. And for those friends of ours still there, we wish them luck. They’re stuck in a business model that pretty much forces them to donate more free ideas just to keep Burger King. Even though the head of their franchisee organization says it’s not the agency that’s adrift, it’s the company.

For the rest of us, how many times does a client have to flame-broil its agency before we get the message?

Experts say that one indicator of intelligence is not making the same mistake more than five or six times.

If the agency you work for pitches Burger King, consider going to work for a more intelligent outfit. Better yet, start your own.

Just make sure you do it a little differently. Our reward for zigging a bit? Challenging projects, happy people, cool offices, margins north of Omnicom’s and work we’re proud of.

One bit of advice: Around here, whenever we’re uncertain which way to go, we ask ourselves what a traditional agency would do. Then we do the opposite.

And that’s why we will not be pitching Burger King.