The Slash Model

Fast, Cheap (and?) Good

You probably know the classic negotiation tactic where you offer you client, “Fast, Cheap or Good. Pick Two.” So how do you respond these days when many clients fire back – in effect – with, “I’ll take all three, thank you very much.”?

For well over a decade, we’ve all been hearing the drumbeat of studio and production company owners begrudging, “Every year, budgets shrink. While requirements go up.” It’s been happening for so many years, it’s considered normal.

Many legacy firms are struggling to adapt. Try to offer a client “all three” and you find discounting is merely a band-aid. Production can speed up only so much. And putting limits on quality is a culture-killer.

Yet despite this irreversible trend, some firms are thriving. How?

Meet the Hybrids

An article in AdWeek featured a comment from Paul Vinod, Group Creative Director at ad agency Havas, which caught my attention (emphasis added):

Kids come out of college today with a fiery creative spirit and a desire to create all the time. They are hybrids. Defining them would be putting them in a straitjacket.

So nowadays in the advertising world, a young creative might bear a singular title of Art Director but actually possesses a suite of skills such as Art Director / Filmmaker / Editor / Web Designer. The ad agencies are arguing how best to recruit and hire such talent.

If you are like me, you greet this notion with some healthy skepticism. But the article goes on to say:

Many of the new emerging creatives aren't dilettantes. They bring skills, and aspire to creative roles, that are broader than the job descriptions into which our industry slots them.

The Slash Model

These multi-dimensional creatives are a product of the Information Age – the likes of which we’ve never seen – where today a young creative can at age 25 possess a level of exposure, experience and savvy that the previous generation possessed at perhaps age 35.

Now imagine a business model where a production company or studio is helmed by creative leaders, each tackling multiple roles at a level previously not believed possible. In other words, the firm’s top creatives are Hybrids. I call this new business model the Slash Model. 

This is one model empowering some up-and-coming firms to thrive in the “I’ll take all three, thank you very much” environment.

In the traditional Specialization Model, as creatives rise in a firm they become highly specialized leaders. A mono-monikered Creative Director does one thing: she creative directs.

But if this person is a Hybrid, she masterfully tackles multiple roles (separated by the ubiquitous slash) such as Account Director / Executive Producer / Creative Director / Line Producer. This Hybrid’s business card bears a singular title, but her function might better be described as Wunderkind. If you haven’t met one, you need to. Better yet, hire one.

The 'Slash Model' Wunderkind. If you haven't met one, you need to. Better yet, hire one. Click To Tweet

The underlying economics (one person doing the job of what would otherwise require two or three FTE’s) and corresponding advantages are obvious. If your firm is built solely on the classic Specialization Model, competing with a Slash Model firm can be maddening.

The (Unsustainable?) Old Guard

To a culture built on the Specialization Model, this model is disruptive. The Hybrids are a challenge to both the ad agency hiring model and culture. Read the advertising blogosphere and you’ll see the status quo arguing how the Slash Model foolishly ignores the old guard’s years of experience, depth of expertise, “Hybrids are simply jack of all trades / master of none,” etc. But the Hybrids can’t hear the whining, they are too busy racing past the old guard into the new future.

The Slash Model model clearly flies in the face of conventional wisdom. About the only thing it has going is… it works. This is not merely theoretical, several highly successful firms in the RevThink portfolio are built on this model. We are seeing it work firsthand.

Adaptability as Expertise

Of course – whether in a rapidly changing marketplace or not – deep and focused expertise is always critical. But in a world where our clients are asking us to help solve strategic and creative problems at better, faster and more efficiently – in effect “do more for less” – Hybrids are a game changer. So although specialization remains essential, adaptability has emerged as a new and valuable expertise all its own.

What about you? Being an owner or partner, you are well acquainted with a Hybrid: yourself. Every creative firm owner is a high achiever in multiple categories like Creative (The Work), Sales, Marketing and/or Production. Your own success is evidence contradicting the naysaying old guard.

Evolving Your Model

Should we evolve our firms’ business models – and culture – to integrate Hybrids? Here is how to approach the question.

First, decide if your firm’s mission and future is aligned with integrating Hybrids. Second, prepare your culture for the disruption. Third, consider vetting and hiring talent based on roles, not traditional titles.

(A brief aside regarding titles: many years ago 3 Ring Circus employed a clever approach which eschewed traditional titles. Instead, their team bore titles like “Master of Ceremonies” or “Juggler.” After all, can’t a creative firm be creative when it comes to titles?)

Pick All Three

To explore the Slash Model, embrace the Hybrids. And seriously consider making room for them at your firm as it evolves. Much like the classic wager, “Fast, Cheap or Good. Pick Two,” the Slash Model may actually empower your firm – and by extension, your clients – to pick all three.

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