How Agency M&A Fuels Independent Collaboration

After some bleak years, things are looking up in the brand building business. We’re realizing a silver lining amidst the relentless mergers and acquisitions that have rocked our industry the past few decades. As the giants aggregated increasingly unwieldy networks, they opened an avenue to major brand work for a new class of consultancy: inspired independents, many formed in response to those painful mergers.

Most recognize this M&A served shareholders but had a crushing impact on integration and creativity.

Worse, as agency leadership swung to the cost-cutters, frustrated talent headed for the exits, looking for new ventures where the work might matter as much as the margin.

Exploring new alliances has made this business truly rewarding again, for us and many others across an array of marketing disciplines. Today’s independents are fundamentally different than the creative-centric boutiques of ten or fifteen years ago. Highly specialized, socially networked, and outcome focused, they are more likely to be mini-entities of two, four, or a few dozen experts who bring exceptional experience and capabilities to bear on brand challenges, free of the politics, overhead, and quality-sapping pressure of delivering a 20% margin to a holding company mothership.

As we continue to iterate Fetrow Ryan & Partners in pursuit of the kinds of challenges we love, independent collaboration has proven incredibly rewarding. And it’s come in a variety of forms. In just a few short months, we’ve worked on collaborations driven by the client, collaborations formed by colleagues to serve a client, even collaborations with traditional agencies leveraging our backgrounds to fill a gap in their own capabilities. In the process, we’ve grown closer to our clients’ business challenges, developed a better understanding of new disciplines, and expanded our creative ideas into a wider range of business needs, from brand definition to product design, from event planning to direct mail. Yes direct mail. It’s been tremendous.

But beyond making our jobs more rewarding, collaboration delivers the massive benefits of bespoke customization to our clients.

In a talent business, client work improves exponentially by aligning perfectly-cast people, as opposed to simply whoever’s available.

Or worse, whoever fits profitably inside increasingly-strained margin demands.

So are general agencies dead? Hardly. Most clients value convenience and simplicity over next level marketing work, and that’s a perfectly valid decision.

But some clients who share our belief that winning attention through creative innovation is marketing’s primary challenge today. Partnering with these types of clients is massively rewarding, despite the nights and weekends.

To a holding company, it probably looks like we’re working at the fringes of the industry. But if you believe this business is fundamentally creative, you’ll realize these collaborations are not really the margins.

They’re the forefront.


Dennis & Mike

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