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Rankin: The creative agency model is fu*ked

07 Feb 2020  |  David Pidgeon 
Rankin: The creative agency model is fu*ked

The British photographer, publisher and film director John Rankin has warned - in no uncertain terms - that the creative agency model is no longer fit for purpose and that "dinosaur" businesses must evolve or die.

Speaking at Mediatel's Future of Brands, Rankin, who recently revamped his own creative outfit, said there is still a place for creative agencies, but they have to "flip" with the rest of the world.

"The model is fucked," he said. "It just doesn't work. You can't have all these egos, all these massive teams and these account people and think it's going to work.

"When you used to make three or four things a year, it was fine - but now you have to make three or four things a week, sometimes three or four things a day. And that means you have to change the way you work."

Rankin added that most of the big creative agencies were "dinosaurs" and were unable to move at the same pace as the rest of the world.

I feel like too many of us are viewing the world through yesterday's lens"

"They're too slow and the ship has sailed. They've got to go and find a way to make it work."

There are many factors changing the way agencies now work with clients - from the rise of the gig economy to the explosion of digital platforms and consumer connectivity, or the death of the generalist to the trend of client in-housing - all of which contribute to what Rankin said was a "world turned upside down".

"I feel like too many of us are viewing the world through yesterday's lens," Rankin said as he argued that the digital and online revolution had reached a point whereby people were becoming "more like brands".

"People are becoming homogenous, 2D and filtered," he said. "So what brands need to do is become more like people, and stop talking to 'the consumer', and start talking with the audience."

Rankin argued this was part of a fundamental shift that many brands and agencies had failed to latch on to.

"The world has turned upside down, and so you have to turn upside too. It's really that simple. Become media owners, editorialise your content. It connects so much better with people and is why PR is doing so well right now. It's no longer about having this big idea, this high concept message and hoping it just filters down."

Rankin added that people are also "bored of being lied to" by businesses, the media and politicians and this made them more receptive to an authentic marketing strategy.

"Tell us the fucking truth for a change. People want to trust someone and if they trust you they'll buy your stuff."

Rankin's comments come six months after he launched a new creative agency as the umbrella group to four existing businesses.

RANKIN employs more than 80 people working across photography, film, editorial content, brand identity, and production. The business includes Rolls Royce, Unilever, L’Oreal, Women’s Aid and Macmillan as clients and has made music videos for Miley Cyrus, Rita Ora and Kelis.

Throughout a wide-ranging interview, Rankin also said the way a brief comes in from clients should stop being a one-way system.

"I don't want your brief," he said. "I want to sit down and write one with you. I want to do the whole thing together and I want the work experience kid making coffee and the junior creatives to challenge us as we go. If we're not challenged then we're not doing good work."

Everyone buys shit, so treat people like human beings. Everything should be diverse as a baseline."

Having a diverse range of voices involved in the creative process also ensures the end product would also have diversity hard-baked into it, he said - "and if your marketing isn't diverse, then you need to go away and have a conversation with yourself. Why wouldn't you want to do it? I don't believe in demographics. Everything should be psychographic... Everyone buys shit, so treat people like human beings. Everything should be diverse as a baseline."

Rankin, who is best known for his portrait photography, including the first plus-sized model to feature in a magazine in 1994, has photographed The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Kate Moss, Kendall Jenner and The Queen in his career, as well as co-founding the style magazine Dazed & Confused with Jefferson Hack in 1992.

His photography has been published in the likes of Elle, Vogue, Esquire, GQ, Rolling Stone, and Wonderland, and exhibited in galleries globally, including MoMA, New York, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

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