#14 Stop the advertising bullshit

Paving a new way with transparency, honesty and trust

How are valuable results achieved quickly and without ‘detours‘? How can customers, agency employees and freelancers be included? And how can the value of creative work be determined? Granyon, a digital agency, has been searching for new answers to these questions since 2016. We meet with the CEO in Copenhagen. 

Mikkel Noe Westh makes a good impression on us right away. We meet him in a trendy café in Nørrebro, Copenhagen’s hipster district.  The experienced advertiser speaks, for the most part, in a quiet and restrained tone – but when he is asked why he chose to found his own agency this past year, after years in high-ranking positions within leading Danish digital agencies and jobs in England and America, Mikkel becomes very heated.

Mikkel has dreams – you can tell just by looking at him!

“The history of most agencies is full of bullshit-stories. You only ever see the agency’s managing director on the very first day – after that, all the work is done by the cheap junior team. A lot of hoopla is made about the idea generation process, because, of course, a spontaneous idea does not equal very many billable hours. Also, consultants, programmers and creatives obstruct one another far too often – which, again, the customer ends up paying for. In short: I understand why people do not trust agencies.”

Breaking new ground

This feeling accompanied Mikkel as he drove with Jesper, Creative Director and co-founder from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon. Finally, in the land of endless possibilities, they concluded: we want to do things differently. Inspired by their surroundings, they founded a digital agency called Granyon in 2016 – it now has about ten employees and collaborators.
“Our goal is to eliminate billing by the hour – between the agency and its customers as well as the agency and its employees and freelancers.  Creativity cannot be measured by that type of unit. A concept is either good, or it’s not; it either suits the task at hand or it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter whether it took 5 minutes or 5 days to develop.  Once implemented, it creates added value for the customer – and that should be the measure of its worth, not the time it took to develop. Of course, there is always a budget and a deadline but talking about quality and business value instead has shown to be more productive for the whole team, including the customers.”

First steps taken

It is not an easy task to remove the focus on hourly rates. A business standard that over the years, has become established as the almost unquestioned basis for calculating payment. Mikkel admits that they have not quite reached their goal and are still trying many different things out. The most important building blocks are, however, already in place: Granyon agrees on a workflow process with its customers, which is divided into weekly packages. These packages have a set price. Whether the entire team works on it day and night, spends time on other things, or decides to go home early one day is up to the employees themselves. But they all agree on the level of quality and the deadline, and this is what each designer must present and deliver.
How it all works? The three fundamental values of transparency, honesty, and trust are of pivotal importance at Granyon. “We expect those values from our employees to earn the same level of trust and transparency from our customers” Therefore, for example, the teams document their progress on a project in great detail and write daily reports.  “But our internal collaboration must be characterized by these values as well. I don’t want to control how many hours each person works. But I want to see that the customers our employees meet feel that we care, listen and do our best to make them a success.” A condition for this way of working together is a certain mindset common to all team members. “We are very careful when selecting our personnel and try to determine if the person will fit into the team and whether they share our values. Skills and experience are important, but whether someone will fit in often becomes obvious within the first month.”
Stefanie: What is your recipe for a good relationship between the agency and the customer? Mikkel: honesty and trust.

Fit the method to the purpose

“Sometimes we have experienced other digital agencies using months of process development and lots of workshops when it could be done a lot more straightforward. If you build your business model around selling hours instead of value you quickly find your agency focussing on selling time, process and reports not always creating value other than for the agency. We want the insights and knowledge that is necessary to begin solving problems. As soon as possible we move the ideas and design into online prototypes so everyone in the organization and their customers can try out if what we are building is working. In this way, we quickly use time on what gives value and not what a designer thinks could be pretty to design.”

Big goals in mind

Granyon is at the beginning – but they have ambitious growth goals that could include other countries. An impressive list of customers – from Velux, Solar to DR, the biggest media association in Denmark – and interest from potential employees, indicates a strong basis for for achieving these goals. “Trust must be earned, but once this base for collaboration has been established, working together is just more fun – and allows for much more freedom.”  With this last sentence, the successful agency manager says goodbye – he wants to get home to his kids. It is 5:30 pm on a Wednesday afternoon.

Mikkels answer to Edmonia’s question from Interview #13: What can other industries learn from your business?

We took the risk of interacting with our clients and employees differently, compared to what is usual within our industry: with transparency and fairness. This courage has been rewarded: with trust.

Mikkel’s question for our next interview:

What happens when we work in a truly interdisciplinary fashion – with people from completely different industries? What experiences are out there when it comes to this?