The Death of the Agency

And How You Can Avoid It

Things look a little different from a few years ago:

OK, this last one sounds pretty outrageous.

How could a piece of software replace an entire business format that has been around since 1786?


How does any archaic model become replaced?

A lack of willingness to embrace the current landscape and innovate.

In other words: a fear of change.

You’ve probably heard the age-old saying:

“The most dangerous phrase in the language is we’ve always done it this way.”

This quote from Rear Admiral Grace Hopper still rings as true today as it did back in 1987. When you consider the conventional agency format, what is the first thing that comes to mind?


Most conventional agencies contain the following silos:

  • Account Services
  • Account Planning
  • Creative
  • Finance and Accounting
  • Media Buying
  • Production

Naturally, not all agencies include these core departments, but you get the general idea. Each department tends to operate independently from the others, only interacting when necessary.

Initially, the biggest value propositions an agency could provide for a client or brand were:

  • A one-stop shop for all of their marketing needs, and;
  • A personal guide throughout the process (the account manager).

What a lot of people don’t realize is behind the four walls of an agency, most day-to-day activities can be distilled down into (skilled) individuals operating with a certain set of processes and systems.

I hate to shatter the illusion, but you can find these highly organized, skilled individuals without shelling out ungodly amounts of money or being forced to wait in darkness as your agency team executes their “magic” in secrecy.

They’re called freelancers.

And they currently make up over a third of the U.S. workforce.

Gone are the days where freelancers were simply considered unorganized, lone gunners for hire. They have done what agencies weren’t able to do.


Because of their ability to operate leanly with technology and execute decisions immediately, freelancers have started to wrestle market share out of the hands of agencies all over the world.

Not only are freelancers able complete work without navigating internal politics; they can tap into a fluid network of other freelancers to organize and disperse when needed.

How can agencies compete with this type of agility when they need sign-off from 3–5 managers for any particular decision?

I’ll tell you how.

By embracing it and partnering with these freelancers.

Agencies need to evolve past the position of glorified middleman and offer flexible resources for both clients and freelance talent.

If they refuse, larger brands will continue to bypass agencies and make direct contact with talented freelancers using platforms like Behance, Dribbble, among many others.

Within these platforms, you can find talented individuals like Dann Petty who not only do amazing work, they also highlight and raise others who have fully embraced freelancing as a viable career path. Look no further than Petty’s newest project Freelance TV for successful freelancers sharing their insight. Many of them have partnered with other independent professionals to pursue this new “fluid agency” model that is overtaking the traditional agency format.

To all of the traditional agency owners out there, I implore you to start including freelancers into your overall growth strategy, if you haven’t already. All it takes is removing a little of the ego that comes with establishing a successful business and thinking more long-term.

Otherwise, you may find yourself employed by the very freelancers you refused to work with down the road.

Adapt or die.

William Frazier is a designer, writer, and founder who blogs about making ideas happen at The Imperfectionist. You can find him on Twitter.

I’m a designer and writer who enjoys making people smile.

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