Like quite a lot of people much smarter than me, I completely screwed up over Dare.
When Campaign’s Digital Agency of the Decade announced it was going to merge with its sister shop MCBD four years ago, I reckoned it was a perfect match of new and traditional, with more than its fair share of the industry’s top talent and a future-proof business model.
It didn’t turn out that way. Not at all. Quite a few of the great people left, along with a fair number of big clients. And the on-paper-perfect idea that putting the best digital agency together with a pretty darn good traditional creative agency would create something more than the sum of its very impressive parts proved ridiculously over-optimistic. Pretty quickly, all that was left was a wounded and rather confused Dare, minus almost every vestige of MCBD (for which Dare’s owner, Cossette, had paid an initial £7.8 million), and the company has spent the past four years trying to recover.
Dare is certainly not the first agency to have reached industry-leading status only to decline soon after
I’ve always had an affection for Dare, not only because it managed to be brilliantly creative and strategically smart at a time when most digital agencies could only convincingly manage the former. But also because its management team combined wisdom, experience and passion with a sensible, grounded approach that so often eluded some of their wild-eyed digital contemporaries.
I think there were two key problems with the merger. First, everyone was too nice, and some of the difficult but necessary decisions weren’t made. So the new combined agency tried to accommodate far too many senior people, all of whom had been used to being given their entrepreneurial head. Perhaps more damagingly, though, both sides completely underestimated the challenges of combining two utterly different cultures and ways of working; the operational DNAs were fundamentally and irredeemably incompatible.
Dare is certainly not the first agency to have reached industry-leading status only to decline soon after. Dazzling success is hard to achieve and even harder to maintain, particularly post-sale. Campaign’s history books are full of very bright stars that fell spectacularly from the sky. Perhaps success takes you too far from your roots, from what made you great in the first place.
So now Dare is trying to reaffirm those qualities that once made it such a force, with a new-but-old creative team that enshrines those principles of open-source working: investigative, curious, slightly crazy, stripped of the command-and-control silos and sign-off structures that have proved so restrictive. It’s particularly good to see Flo Heiss, the architect of so much that made Dare once great, back at the coalface. I got it wrong with Dare (at least) once before. But this feels right.
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