16 September 2013

Small Media Agencies Far from a Dying Breed (UPDATED)

Last week's news about KSL Media going bankrupt sent one trade publication jumping to conclusions.  AdAge.com blared:  "KSL Bankruptcy Calls Into Question Marketer Appetite for Indie Media Shops".  The gist of the story was that KSL had to go out of business because it was losing clients to big, holding-company media agencies.  Indeed, Bacardi left KSL for Mindshare this year.  Could one client loss really kill a small media agency?
If only it were just $8,000

It's actually a much more dramatic story:  Former KSL controller Geoffrey Charness is accused of embezzling tens of millions of dollars.  (We hasten to add he's innocent until proven guilty.)

It’s no crime, however, to be an "indie media shop".  Independent media agencies serve clients that the big agencies overlook, and do it well.

There's no question that scale counts when negotiating low CPMs on a big budget.  But scale isn't everything in media.  

“Media” and “Creative” aren’t mutually exclusive

Media has become more creative in recent years, driven by the development of hundreds of new ways for brands and consumers to connect with one another.  In other words, media isn't just about scale, it's about innovation.  

Large media agencies have no more of a monopoly on innovation than do large creative agencies.  It's interesting to note that TurboTax recently awarded its creative account to Wieden + Kennedy -- and then, two months later, also gave them the media planning and buying assignment.

We'll find out how the KSL-embezzlement-bankruptcy storyline plays out over the next few weeks.  It won't be pretty for the employees who faithfully executed their duties every day, coming up with ideas to build their clients' businesses.

But it’s safe to say that we'll still have "indie media shops" far into the future, continuing to build clients' businesses in ways we can't even imagine.

UPDATED 11 October 2013:

The plot thickens.  Today MediaPost is reporting that KSL Media loaned millions of dollars to senior execs, even in its waning days.


  1. Steve,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment. As the founder and CEO of an indie media shop here in NY, we offer a highly innovative approach to media and channel planning, are able to negotiate extremely well (we fly under the radar) and the four senior partners all came from strong creative agency backgrounds (W+K, CP+B and Droga5) . We pride ourselves on being able to think more creatively to allow our client's brands to break through the sea of sameness.

    I fear Ad Age's piece only serves to support the myth that large = safe, best, more efficient. KSL looks like it came unstuck due to poor financial management internally not the servicing of client business.

    I enjoyed your blog :)

    Gary Hardwick
    Founder and CEO - Ikon3

    1. Gary, thanks for the comment, and the kind words. Your story doesn't surprise me at all. Creativity is a hands-on experience, and it sounds like that's the way you get to great solutions for your clients. Great to hear!

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  3. Today, perhaps more than at any time in my two decades in the advertising business, ideas are what matter most to businesses. … The better the idea, in short, the safer.
    What total baloney. I’ve worked for agencies large and small. I work for a small one now. All that matters is copying what the perceived leader in the field is doing and selling it to the client in a way that persuades them they are being boldly original when they are just copying. Do that and you’ll get the business.

    1. Rose, thanks for the comment. I'm not sure I agree. On the one hand, King Solomon observed "there's nothing new under the sun". Many ideas derive from the ones that came before. But just copying the leader and dressing it up? I honestly don't know many ad people who do that. Sure, once in a while you'll see the same idea re-used. But most people I've worked with make a genuine attempt to create something new every time.

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