“Just Sayin’…” By Doug deGrood

By The Minneapolis Egotist / /

Observations from a mostly retired but still fully functioning advertising mind

In the Washington Irving story, Rip Van Winkle, ol’ Rip goes to sleep after imbibing a powerful alcoholic beverage, only to awaken 20 years later to find the world changed beyond recognition.

I just had an eerily similar experience. I was asleep, so to speak, not for 20 years, but for three years. My slumber was also liquor-induced. You see, I left the ad agency business in 2020 to start Back Nine Beverages, makers of Doogie McShank’s. I awakened last week to read the Business Journal‘s latest ranking of the Top “Ad Agencies” in Minneapolis. My reaction was, “Where the hell am I?”

I don’t mean that as an insult. It’s just, well, I hardly recognized any of the names of the agencies listed. To be fair, they’ve probably never heard of my old agency, Gabriel deGrood Bendt, or maybe even the agency we merged with, Modern Climate. The times, they are a changin’, fast. But still, I wondered, what happened to Fallon, Colle McVoy and Carmichael Lynch? How could the agency landscape have changed that dramatically in just three short years?

I went onto the websites of a few of these “Top Agencies,” wanting to know what their secret sauce is. After all, their revenue numbers are eye popping—$80 million, $74 million, $47 million. I dug around their sites, but I couldn’t find much evidence of what it is they make— other than gobs of money.

So, are these companies really “ad agencies”? And what does that term even mean anymore?
Ad agencies—or the ad agencies I’ve always known and the world has always known for over a century—are companies in the business of making and placing ads. Ya know, artfully crafted words and/or pictures in myriad media forms that make you take notice and remember the brand they’re associated with long after being exposed to them. The top agency did have a few examples of ads they created for clients like Gutter Helmet. But, how do you make $80 million doing that? I later learned this firm generates most of its revenue from buying media. But then why call yourself an ad agency?

For as long as I was in the ad business (32 years to be exact), there existed media buying agencies, direct response firms, sales promotion companies, trade show firms, etc., and those are exactly the terms they used to describe themselves. The moniker “ad agency” was reserved for, ya know, ad agencies.

I get that “the lines have blurred” and that ads take many new forms that didn’t exist before. But, if you ask Jane or John Q Public to explain what an ad is, I’m pretty sure they’re going to describe something resembling a short video, or a poster.

Again, does it matter? Maybe not. Unless you’re a really successful ad agency, as opposed to an “ad agency,” and your firm didn’t make the list, and so companies might not be inclined to hire you because you’re not “legit.”

None of this is to suggest these firms don’t provide valuable services to their clients. Obviously, they do, or that top agency wouldn’t be taking in $80 million a year. Incidentally, the Business Journal ranking states this excludes pass-through income, such as media costs or production, so we’re talking pure revenue. According to LinkedIn, that same agency has 59 employees. That’s an impressive $1.36 million per employee! (I’d be asking for a raise if I worked there.)

Just sayin’…

— Doug deGrood
[email protected]


  1. huh. neat. September 5, 2023

    * … insert simpson’s “old man yells at cloud” image here*

  2. Recovering Adguy September 5, 2023

    We all know the numbers are puffed, but people love lists. So, here we are.

    HONEST QUESTION: Is anybody making anything? This website was created for THE WORK. Not for new-hire announcements. How about all of you (even you, “huh. neat.”) submit more of the work the work the work here on The Egotist and prove that Minneapolis is on the ad map. Let’s see those campaigns, those big ideas. I’d even settle for some “ran once at midnight” award show BS. Let’s see it! Whatever you do, please PLEASE don’t post another new hire announcement. Also, hold the AI chatter. And while we’re abbreviating, let’s skip the RTO banter too. [yawn]

  3. Christopher Harrison September 7, 2023

    Good article. I left the business over a decade ago after 15 years in the biz and I couldn’t recognize any of the “top” agencies here in the Twin Cities, more or less know what the produce. Do they even do creative? That was the fun stuff about the industry. Super Bowl campaigns have been weak as of late. Even Brit ads are stale. Guess the agencies will succumb to web banners and an occasion witty insurance ad!

  4. Bruce September 10, 2023

    Ad agencies are of the no more. The world of making an impact via clever headline, copy or art direction doesn’t seem to be valued the same way anymore. I remember the days of seeing an ad and thinking, “wow, they nailed it—they captured exactly what I was thinking or how I felt in relation to the brand.” That was cool and that is why I decided to get into the business of Adverting. What we could do when we really understood the target and embraced the true essence of a product or service or brand was really cool. The magic still exists but must now be measured via KPIs sales, EBITDA, etc. to be considered “magic.” I am grateful I was able to work in some of those agencies that believed in the ability to influence public perception so powerfully. It was challenging, but so much fun. We can still alter the buying habits via smart positioning and messaging, but must be more analytical in how we define our success. Time to adapt I suppose. I do hope we never lose the value however, of smart, clever messaging when done well by people who know how to capture what the most of us are thinking.

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