Going solo is the sweetest sorrow

Ramsey Naja is chief creative officer, JWT MENA

“I love the word ‘boutique’. It’s one of those terms that demonstrate the French language’s ability, just like its Italian counterpart’s, to make something as basic as staple food sound like it has come off a delicatessen counter.

Just like a pizza quattroformaggi is, well, a four-cheese pie, a boutique is… a shop. But attach it to a hotel and suddenly it’s the Ritz in miniature. Bring it to advertising and we’re somehow talking of an achingly gorgeous minimalist open-plan office with impossibly beautiful people doing the kind of communication we only dream about, free as it is from corporate constraints and client interference. In fact, it is somehow assumed that, in a boutique agency, clients would act like a teenage boy on a first date with Mrs Robinson.

With the possibilities the fragmented media landscape offers today, an increasing number of talented agency people are either thinking of, or actually going, independent – opening their ‘boutique’. And it is a very good thing. Unless big agencies are challenged by more agile, aggressive and funky outfits, nothing will stop their backwards evolution into dinosaurs. Sadly, the leap into independence is often done on a whim or, worse, that fuzzy intention of ‘creating content’. But what many independents soon discover is a bunch of brochure briefs, a couple of real estate banners and the kind of client that makes them yearn for that OCD marketing director who believes enlightenment is in research analytics.

Few would-be independents actually realise what they leave behind when they walk out of an agency, and even fewer really know what they are getting themselves into. To go indie is to sacrifice variety and security. And yet it is worthwhile, but only if the clients are genuinely ambitious, the potential of fame is real, the business plan is sound and salaries will actually be paid at the end of the month. At a time when budgets are being slaughtered, there’s hardly any point in opening a boutique if it’s going to end up being a discount store.”

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