Jun 02

The death of an agency

Modernista just died. Rip

For those of you unfamiliar with the firm, Modernista was founded in 1999 and within a very brief period of time, became a white hot advertising agency that, at its peak, boasted 130 employees and clients such as Gap, Hummer, TIAA-Cref, Converse and Cadillac.

I remember reading and hearing all about Modernista, their daring creative and sterling reputation from clients and prospects alike.

And, then something changed in 2006. That's the year Modernista's Gary Koepke said, "We felt like we arrived." But, for Koepke & Company, arrival signaled departure because they stopped doing all the little things that had made them successful in the first place. He says Modernista lost its mojo after 2006 and simply became too comfortable.

They tried to stay abreast of change, particularly social media, but nothing worked. Koepke says the 2008 recession and client bankruptcies made managing the business tougher and tougher. Tensions grew and, somehow, they found themselves being labeled as '…that old stuff.' (Read: a traditional advertising agency).

You can scan the rest of Koepke's sad tale in the attached article, but he does pass along eight warning signs that are worth reading whether you toil for an impersonal, global holding company or a hip, Modernista-type start-up:

1.) Nobody wants to admit things are bad.
2.) Staff begins to depart for other agencies.
3.) Your eight-year-old daughter asks, 'What's wrong?' every night.
4.) Projections aren't met and overhead is tipping greater than revenue.
5.) In pitches, other agencies tell the client you're going out of business (note: I couldn't imagine a sleazier thing to say or do to another firm).
6.) When you do win the business, it's often only the smaller fish, not the big ones.
7.) You start having conversations about M&A or bank loans.
8.) You have this nagging feeling things aren't getting better and it doesn't go away.

I feel really bad for Koepke and Modernista. I can't pinpoint exactly why they failed. But, I do know why we've survived and why we're on track to post our best results in at least five years. We keep changing. We keep asking what's new and what's next. And, if we don't have the core competency to meet client needs, we strike strategic partnerships, acquire other firms or hire non-traditional talent.

Business success is all about staying one step ahead of change. It's also about NOT sipping your own Kool-Aid, reading your own press clippings or, as Koepke admits, growing too comfortable.

Modernista: 1999-2011. R.I.P.