For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a huge corporate crush on iStrategyLabs. As anyone at my agency, Taoti Creative, will tell you, I frequently reference ISL to this day, as their innovative DNA has always been a source of inspiration for my team, and for me personally. I remember inviting myself over to their shop back when they were a few blocks up Connecticut Avenue from us, just to meet the (in)famous Peter Corbett and hope some of the magic might rub off on me. (And did so again with DJ Saul at their Shaw location.) So I was very saddened to hear they’d be closing up shop. DC is losing one of its darling, home-grown, creative power houses.
As a competitor and collaborator and a fellow creative agency in the DC market, the ISL news hit hard on several levels. If a shop with so much talent and momentum can dry up, what does that say about the state of our industry? What might it imply about Taoti’s own trajectory? But I don’t think ISL’s demise is a reflection of the agency market. From where I sit (and the bits and pieces I get from friends within the ISL ranks), the problems started with their acquisition by Walter Thompson. The issue isn’t with who acquired them so much as it is the fact that they were acquired at all and lost their independence (not to mention their visionary founder, Peter Corbett). Matt Smith gets it right in his article about the sort of dedication clients get when they work with smaller, local, independent agencies instead of the big names that are owned by global holding companies.
As an owner (as opposed to a hired CEO) of just such an independent agency, I can attest to the fact that it’s personal for us. We’re not working to put numbers up for corporate overlords half way around the world. Success for us is about so much more than revenue. The satisfaction we earn from doing great work, building meaningful relationships, and growing our agency from our humble beginnings is immensely rewarding on a level that just isn’t the same when you’re working for the proverbial man. And since we get to write our own rules (and break them accordingly), we’re highly agile and flexible and are able to work the sort of unique deals and projects that make a thriving creative agency such an interesting and effective team.
Don’t get me wrong: there are some great shops that are owned by big companies. I don’t mean to take anything away from them or their teams. But ISL’s demise has made me pause and reflect on the uniqueness and advantages that an independent, boutique shop (like ours!) can offer its clients. I wholeheartedly agree with Smith when he says that if you’re looking for a team that will dedicate themselves to your business, a independent agency that isn’t distracted with stock prices, multi-office politics, or a growing list of mergers and acquisitions will go above and beyond to deliver—because their existences depends on it. (I would add that we’ll deliver a lot more bang for the buck too!)
To ISL’s employees: we’re big fans (always have been) and would love to work with you in any capacity! Whether you need a job or want to hang your own shingle and could use some help getting off the ground, we’d love to chat! And to help ease the transition, Taoti will happily provide free desk space for any of you who want to show up in a creative space with like-minded people making great things. Feel free to come work out of our offices on Capitol Hill, or just hang out and enjoy the coffee and camaraderie while you find your next adventure.
To ISL’s clients: if you’re not quite content with whatever transition plan has been offered to you, or even if you’d just like a change of pace, we’d love to chat with you too! If you miss what you originally got when you signed on with ISL, I’d like to suggest that Taoti still has that same creative DNA that made ISL what it was, and we’d love to put our talents to work for you! Drop us a line!
Farewell, ISL! You’re already missed.
–brent lightner (Founder & CEO, Taoti Creative / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.taoti.com)