Monday, March 4, 2024

Modern Metaphor.

Casey Stengel, AKA "The Ol' Perfesser."

I'm good at metaphors. 

Or at least I think I am.

Because I've spent so much of my life on my own, I've had to explain much of life to myself. I didn't have a father, or a mother to help me. I had to figure out things myself.

The $2 word is: autodidact.

When I didn't understand something, I learned to leap to something I did understand and compare what I didn't know to what I did.

I might not understand dual-core processing in a chip. But I understand that two engines in a toy-airplane would give you more power and speed.

That's learning through metaphor.

Seeing someone cook a good Bolognese and realizing that cooking ain't all that different from chemistry. 

That's learning through metaphor.

I remember reading, when I was young, a quotation by the Yankees' manager, Casey Stengel: "The trick in managing," he said, "is to keep the ten guys who hate you away from the fifteen guys who are undecided."

I don't have an MBA or a degree in psychology. But there's not much left to learn about managing after you understand that.

That's learning through metaphor.

When I worked in agencies, I often thought about the two-bit diamond merchants who had no shop of their own. They had a desk and a display in one of the big stores on 47th Street. Or the fragrance companies that built a counter on the perfume floor at Bloomingdale's flagship on Lex between 59th and 60th.

These are all people who don't have enough capital or the inclination to open up an entire place. So they rent out a portion of something larger. Hair-stylists do this, too. Rather than open up their own shop, they lease a chair in an established salon. They pay for that chair and have to turn much of their revenue over to the person who has the primary lease on the shop.

I realized some years back that that was how agencies worked. Most people believe that they can't attract and run business on their own. So they essentially rent a desk in an agency.

If you're renting a desk, you might get paid $100,000 for the $200,000 you're making the agency. You pay for the work you do, the desk you sit at, the broken xerox machine you nominally have access to, and the supposed support you get from the agency itself.

There’s nothing in these relationships but payment. There's a pretense of symbiosis, but they're about as mercantile as you can get. And no orchestra will keep a one-armed xylophone player. If you can't make them money, you have to hit the bricks. As long as you’re making them dough, you keep your table, or seat. They mask the mercenary-ness of the relationship by pretending you’re part of a team or a family member. Yeah, right.

They pay you, yes. But only a portion of the money you bring in. They never, under any circumstances, pay someone more money than they bring in. Especially creative people. Creatives never get "overhead consideration."

Most people don't look at working for a company as a form of pay-go-ism, but that's what it is. If you don't pay them, you don't get work. It's no different from any of the examples above. I guess buried somewhere in our evolutionary patterns, we want to believe we're important to the tribe. So we try to ignore that we're only there to make money for the boss.

I'm not one-hundred percent sure why this system seems to have collapsed. For me, personally, when I got fired from Shmogilvy I soon discovered I didn't need an agency to give me clients. I found I could get them myself. I discovered I no longer needed an agency brand to help define me, I could build my own brand.

Emergent George, you could call it. Believing in myself.

My friend Nicole, also ex-Schmogilvy, said to me one day before they fired me: "Don't worry about being fired; you're brand is better than theirs."

The final reason behind the break-down of the agency-worker relationship might be the hardest to understand. Somewhere along the way--maybe about five years ago--a lot of agencies and clients decided that their path to greatest returns was to mass produce commoditized work making small profits on thousands of pieces rather than making large profits on one or two pieces.

It's the old, make for the classes, you dine with the masses. Make for the masses, you dine with the classes.

Agencies today for the most part get their money producing a trillion banner ads and social tiles. These "assets" keep hundreds of low-paid people working at 110-percent capacity and maximizes the agency's return on worker-output. It's work that's churned out and often it's work that's produced in "batches." Agencies make more money on one-thousand people at, say, one-hundred dollars a day, than they would on twenty people even if those people earned them four-thousand dollars a day.

ex:  1,000 people x $100 income/day =  $100,000.
           20  people x $4,000 income/day = $80,000.

This is exactly how you'd run a barber shop or a diamond desk or a perfume counter. You'd maximize profit.

Agencies used to be agents for their clients' success. Today's calculus is different. Agencies aren't agents anymore--they deliver little added-value and advice is scarce. Only rarely do they do something big that drives a brand or a category forward. They patch streets. They don't build road-networks.

Agencies more properly might be called Vendories. 

That's not a metaphor.

No comments: