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A Look at Agency Team Structures by Doug Schiff


Doug Schiff, the CCO at Ogilvy & Mather Japan, considers the structure of agency teams “moving targets” in a continually evolving industry.

So, how do you hit the bullseye then, as the Internet disrupts team structures from the top down? Read Doug’s insight and advice of how to future-proof agency team structures.


Let’s first consider the creative team. I would say the demise of the Bernbachian writer and art director pairings has been overstated, as it still provides that manifestly whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts creative spark. But it’s also true that the number of hours this time-honored duo has been spending exclusively together is ticking downward.

They’re now sharing more evenings with technologists, lunching with data analysts, and pleading to get on the calendars of social media types; not to mention being joined at the hip with XD-ers, whenever the brief includes an app or a site build.

So while writer-art director teams still have their place in the idea-gen process—and certainly script writing—evolving needs and the jacked-up value in data and tech demand a flexibility within the agency that allows social, strategists, data, tech and media specialists to collaborate with creatives early on.


Ideally, a kind of flexibility is built into this new ‘team’ structure, so it allows for these collaborations to go liquid; meaning to be loosely framed enough for the opportunity itself to lead in creating the proper team make-up, as naturally as liquid seeks its own level.

This can be a challenge because specialized individuals often ladder up to different disciplinary heads. And also, the social expert that’s just right for an assignment from client A, is very often paid for by client B. So, keepers of the P and Ls have to genuinely buy into this shared economy. Or hone their skills at looking the other way.


I trust that last bit may have had your eyelids getting heavier. So here’s the provocative thought. Like a lot of leading digital agencies, we run ‘sprints’ for many app or site projects, following an iterative process, helping clients to engage and share ownership, while helping the team revise and improve the work as it develops. Which is all good.

But what if that agile approach was to be used in other areas, where process can overshadow output, such as content creation in its many forms?

What might be the implications for agency team structures?

As Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says—and I loosely paraphrase—rather than wasting time having focus groups determine what a brand unleashes, just get it out there and see what happens, while being at the ready to reform and re-release.

Ogilvy London is experimenting with its ‘Maker Space’ group. The idea is to bring together collections of cross-discipline T-shapers, and charge them with making prototypes, not decks.

Our industry cherishes stories of creative directors, who, unsure of a client’s appetite to step outside their comfort zone, go out and make films without first selling them through, with the hopes of clients buying into the genius once they see the finished product. Now that you can produce a piece of social on your mobile, there’s not much keeping us from following this model. That being the case, the new maker culture may have a pretty hefty effect on agency structures. And on the insomnia level of anyone trying to settle on a single structural blueprint.

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