Will ad agencies of the future be hyphen-ated?

The ad agency of the future will be staffed not by star quarterbacks but by decathletes. That's the belief of David Martin, who founded Vancouver-based Hyphen Communications with partner Olaf Strassner a year-and-a-half ago.

The ad agency of the future will be staffed not by star quarterbacks but by decathletes. That’s the belief of David Martin, who founded Vancouver-based Hyphen Communications with partner Olaf Strassner a year-and-a-half ago.

Martin, who doubled his office space last month, describes the five members of his agency as being ‘hyphenated.’ What exactly does it mean? Well, for instance, Martin is responsible for writing, directing, photography, accounts and media, while Strassner acts as a designer, video animator and composer.

‘Having ‘experts’ in agency or corporate departments works for a time, but it’s difficult to react to a dynamic marketplace,’ he says. ‘We believe in the creative decathlete, who is good in all events. They may not be the best, but they are nimble enough to match the needs that clients have.’

Those needs, he points out, are now more often not about advertising, but building, launching and relaunching brands. ‘More and more, it’s not traditional solutions we’re being hired for. It’s far less prescriptive: ‘Here’s a problem to solve, you figure out how to solve it.”

As an example, Martin flags a recent video Hyphen developed for the RCMP in Richmond, B.C. The organization, which heard about work the shop had completed on the Vancouver 2010 Olympic bid, approached Martin and Strassner to create an annual report showcasing its highlights from the last year. In the end, the RCMP got ‘a 15-minute-long video piece that looks and feels more like an episode of CSI, with animation and special effects having been completed in-house,’ says Martin. ‘Every brand has a story when you bring it to life.’

Marketers seem to agree, because they’re lining up to work with Hyphen. Currently, its client list totals 14, including Grouse Mountain, Vancouver Playhouse, North Shore Auto Mall, and British Columbia Transmission Corp.

Having said that, Martin, who spent 21 years at large agencies in Toronto and Vancouver including Anderson Advertising and TBWAVancouver – (Strassner has 16 years of similar experience from the European ad biz) – doesn’t plan to go on a hiring spree anytime soon.

‘We want to be a jazz ensemble, where we all play a lot of instruments and riff off each other,’ says Martin, explaining this is in contrast to most ad companies’ ‘symphony orchestra’ structure. ‘Our growth will be determined by how many people we can fit in the ensemble and still make great music.’ In other words, he adds, likely not more than six or seven players.