Adobe Digital Dialogue

September 8, 2017 /Creative Business /

Creative director Chris Doyle on the power of small agencies

Inter­na­tion­al­ly recog­nised design­er Chris Doyle received this lit­tle piece of advice when open­ing his own agency – nev­er call your­self small.

Now, near­ly five years on, Christo­pher Doyle & Co. work with brands like Spo­ti­fy and Red Bal­loon. The founder is quite glad that he flipped that advice and cap­i­talised on the ben­e­fits of being small while per­form­ing big.

Chris pulled up a chair at Adobe MAKE IT this month to share career advice with fel­low cre­atives. Eager­ness, active lis­ten­ing, and diplo­ma­cy emerged as the three main imper­a­tives need­ed to pros­per in an indus­try that evolves every six months.

As a SMB own­er him­self, Chris has a lot to say for fel­low small agen­cies embark­ing on a sim­i­lar jour­ney.

Starting from scratch

Chris found­ed his agency after 12 years in the indus­try and the birth of his sec­ond child. He’d risen to senior roles in top Syd­ney agen­cies but craved a more mea­sured life, time with his fam­i­ly and cre­ative con­trol, a bal­ance he’s found, albeit in a dif­fer­ent form.
“What I thought naive­ly was that I was going back to more design work, which I did, but the busi­ness side of things is much more hands on,” he says.

Chris had built an indus­try-wide name for him­self, but it still took a few years before he felt “in the swing of things” as his own boss. “Design­ers usu­al­ly have a port­fo­lio they show employ­ers who hire you based on that. I was real­ly keen once I’d left my last agency not to show what I’d done there.”

Chris chal­lenged him­self to cre­ate an orig­i­nal body of work, sep­a­rate from what he’d done with agen­cies in the past; a rite of pas­sage he believes every design­er should go through.

“It’s kind of dodgy to walk into meet­ings and say ‘this is what we do’ when it’s not actu­al­ly what we do, it’s what I’ve done with agen­cies in the past.”

Building a team

Chris has a sim­ple rule when it comes to man­ag­ing staff – avoid big agency prob­lems.

One of these was not intro­duc­ing design­ers to the ‘big meet­ings’ fast enough, some­thing essen­tial when man­ag­ing a small team. Today, Chris’s design­ers are open­ly part of the deci­sion-mak­ing process and heav­i­ly involved with the intri­ca­cies of client strat­e­gy.

“When we find our­selves in any client sit­u­a­tion, I can talk about it open­ly because they’re aware of it and not in their design bub­ble, and that’s a prob­lem that can hap­pen in big­ger agen­cies.”

Chris has built an envi­ron­ment that empow­ers design­ers far quick­er than big agen­cies on both the cre­ative and man­age­ment side, keep­ing them excit­ed and invest­ed in the work.

Dealing with clients

The qual­i­ty of ser­vice can make or break a client rela­tion­ship. “Clients want to sit with the cre­atives, they want to talk to the per­son cre­at­ing the work. There are no walls and no buffers. The head of mar­ket­ing is on the phone with the design­er and brief­ing the work in. They could go to a ginor­mous ad agency, but they love that rela­tion­ship.”

The design­ers under Chris’s label are not just cre­atives but account man­agers who are required to have con­tact with the humans that briefed in the work. These account man­age­ment skills build resilience and strat­e­gy in his design­ers, two qual­i­ties cru­cial to all employ­ees of a small busi­ness.

Standing out

A cre­ative tools sub­scrip­tion and a busi­ness card are all design­ers need these days to open their own dream agency, cre­at­ing an extreme­ly com­pet­i­tive land­scape of sim­i­lar­ly skilled design­ers. In this type of envi­ron­ment, Chris under­stands that only orig­i­nal ideas work and the best agen­cies build a cul­ture that ‘strives for new­ness’, regard­less of how small that change in mes­sag­ing, style or tone may be.

“Designer’s that say ‘every­thing has been done’ are talk­ing non­sense. Not every­thing has been done or said. At least part of what you pro­duce needs to be new.”

The real­i­sa­tion of cre­ativ­i­ty will always come from the peo­ple involved on both client and agency sides, regard­less of the work. Man­ag­ing this day-to-day human con­tact is the most cru­cial part of any client-agency rela­tion­ship.

As the leader of a small busi­ness, Chris under­stands the impor­tance of meet­ing clients in the flesh, espe­cial­ly in an increas­ing­ly dig­i­tal world.

“I make sure I have a lot of face-to-face time with clients, because the only tru­ly unique thing that you can offer is your­self.”

Creative Business

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