Independence is something we all strive for. Being independent from mum and dad, not having to rely on others for money, and having the security of our own income are all things that can send a warm, reassuring tingle down our spines. But with that independence can come a crippling fear of cocking everything up.
That’s both the lure and the terror of joining an independent ad agency. You have the freedom from shareholders (mum and dad), you’re relying entirely on your own abilities to get anywhere, and the wins feel ten times better because you know you’ve achieved them against all the odds. But then, if you do cock up, that could be your career up the shitter.
With all of those metaphors in mind, we asked Hollie Newton, formerly of Grey and recently appointed as Executive Creative Director of Sunshine, what made her take the leap into the land of the independent.
SSZ: Joining an independent agency sounds exciting. What made you think this was right for you?
Hollie: I’ve always felt more at home in independent agencies. There are far fewer shareholders, fewer rules and corporate restraints. With that comes greater creative and commercial freedom. If we want to start a brand, we can. If we want to write and put on a West End show, there’s not a lot stopping us. If an unexpected creative opportunity pops up, with a totally new client, we can be up and running with days. It’s entrepreneurial and fast.
Why Sunshine? Well, I’ve reached the point in my career where I don’t want to simply work for a company – I want to build one. Al and Kit (Chief Executive and Chief Creative Officers) are an irresistible combo, and the team at Sunshine, what they’ve achieved in only 2 and a half years, is bonkers. It was an un-turn-downable opportunity.
SSZ: While smaller agencies give you more freedom, don’t they also come with more risk?
Hollie: I’ve come to the conclusion that our entire industry is built on risk. I’ve had fabulous projects fall through at big and small agencies, seen accounts lost and redundancies roll in 60 people, and 600 people, companies.
What I’d find most risky, downright foolhardy even, is pootling along, doing the same things our industry has always done, as the world flips on its head around us. It’s best to get stuck, give it everything you have with a group of exceptional people, and see what fate has up its sleeve for you.
SSZ: Excited, nervous or terrified?
Hollie: I’m an over-excited labrador at heart. Let’s go!
SSZ: What are the main differences in working for a smaller agency compared to a big one?
Hollie: I’ve had a brilliant time on both sides. It’s mainly down to the people, the culture, and the driving ambition of the place you’re in.
In a small agency, the speed with which you can effect change is particularly powerful. If something isn’t working, you can change it immediately. If a team’s proved themselves invaluable, you can promote and reward them without having to wade through months of holding company nonsense. If you spot an opportunity, you can sit down the entire exec team that afternoon and work out how you’re going to make it happen.
Speed. It’s always speed with me. I’m notoriously impatient.
SSZ: How does someone climb the career ladder and end up as ECD?
Hollie: Big question! I’m 32, and a woman. Statistically it shouldn’t be possible, or allowed according to some quarters.
I feel sure that it’s entirely unique to each ECD in the world, but I’d bet we all have these things in common:
A super hard work ethic.
A need to constantly learn.
An ability to spot and nurture talent.
At some stage, the dawning realisation that, not only do you need other people, you need other people who are better than you – a killer team of scarily talented humans.
And despite everything, optimism.
SSZ: Finally, what would you say to a graduate about working for an independent? Is it something you should dive straight into, or something better left until you’ve got a bit more experience?
Hollie: I started in a tiny independent, went to a slightly bigger independent, then hopped over to a big independent (W+K), before joining Grey, my only ever network agency. They felt like an independent too, so they don’t really count.
I’d say do it. As a young team in a small agency, you’ll be working on live briefs, making work, and learning far quicker than your peers in big famous agencies. You can sit and chat through work with your ECD, go and ask the head of design how to use vector images, and find yourself on a shoot with Rankin in your first 6 months. The key is to get in first, leave last, over-deliver every time, and become a little creative sponge.