The mess, the serendipity, the coffee: a love letter to the Agency

Saatchi & Saatchi London's chairman and chief strategy officer reflects on his addiction to the rush he gets from 'mainlining pure advertising Agency'.

This is a love letter.

To the most enduring love of my life.
I first came across the object of my affection a little over 30 years ago, as I prepared to leave university and find a job in advertising.
I was passionate about the work, of course: the beauty, craft, cleverness, imagination, daring, swagger, sexiness and soul of the work. I graduated the year of British Airways "Face".
But I fell in love with the Agency.
Not any one agency. The Agency.
At that time, the desire was made manifest through the briefest milk-round glimpses of Abbott Mead Vickers, BMP and CDP in their pomp. And while I didn’t make it through their doors – at first my love was unrequited –  my head had been turned forever.
Ever since, while I have moved agencies very occasionally, from AMV to HHCL and Saatchi & Saatchi, each fantastic and fantastically different, my love of the Agency has remained constant.
The look, the feel, the smell, the sound and the energy of the Agency. A powder keg of insanely talented people, barely tamed, gathered together from around the world into a few-thousand square feet, then let loose.
A place that exudes a sense that almost anything could happen as you walk in each day. An environment of palpable restlessness created by the eternal search for a better idea, a "one-in-10,000 idea" that changes everything. And the agency tribalism and fierce identity that marks one place from another, despite the brand vandalism of the past few years. 
I am an agency lifer because I am addicted to it, that rush from mainlining pure Agency.
I’m sure people outside our industry work in some amazing places, with amazing cultures, doing amazing things. But they aren’t Agencies. An Agency isn’t an office, an Agency culture isn’t an office culture, an Agency party isn’t an office party. An Agency is something else entirely, a deliciously indescribable place.
And right now I miss it, really miss it. 
Of course, agencies are far more than a set of walls. Though at best those walls can be rather wonderful. After all, where else would you have a pub sitting at the heart of a business named after a birth control campaign? 
Of course, the heart of an agency is in the people. Amazing people, creative, intelligent, energetic, weird and wonderful people. And, in truth, an Agency exists however and whenever they gather, online or in person. We have learnt that in the past year. 
Of course, it’s true that the way we operate as businesses will be changed forever by remote working and we may never return to the old binary distinction between home and work. We all recognise that there have been some immeasurable upsides in this for many of us.
Of course, aided by technology we have been phenomenally efficient and productive in ways few of us could have imagined before last year. It is worth a moment of reflection that we are running incredible businesses and producing extraordinary work from our bedrooms, at the kitchen table, on the sofa and under the stairs. In fact anywhere but in the Agency. 
But I miss it.
The mess, the chaos, the coffee, the serendipity, the insanity, the coffee, the tantrums, the stimulation, the randomness, the celebrations, the optimism, the banter, the corridor conversations, the coffee, the passion, the drama and the dramas. The stage, the preparation and the performance. 
The whole fucking theatre of an advertising Agency.
At a time when "new age" holding companies and in-housers demean and disparage the advertising Agency, it is time that we were relentlessly proud of it. 
So we get back in there, whenever that is, let’s remember that we aren’t just selling the work. We are creating the magical place that the work is forged, bought and made in. And that place matters to clients and agency people alike.
The Agency is my first love and I promise I will never take it for granted again.
Richard Huntington is chairman and chief strategy officer of Saatchi & Saatchi London
This article was first published by Campaign

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