Jim Coudal's advertising and design agency, Coudal Partners, has no clients. Well, that's not strictly true, it has one client: itself.
Speaking at Webstock in Wellington yesterday, Coudal talked about the conscious decision he made a decade ago to move his Chicago-based agency away from being client-driven, to working on its own goals. Why give your best ideas and energy to a client, when you could make it your own successful business, he says.
"We asked ourselves did we want to work for people we didn't like, or for ourselves. It's a pretty easy question to answer," says Coudal.
Coudal would rank clients by order of "reprehensibility", slowly firing them one by one as the agency became more self-sufficient.
"The idea of assassinating all your clients one by one is interesting," says Coudal.
Coudal Partner's transition from a client agency to an enterprise in its own right wasn't easy. Coudal says there were many times the company had to resort to its old ways to keep afloat.
"From time to time we had to go back and design the occasional annual report for companies," he says.
This financial buffer allowed Coudal Partners to invest its creative energies into internal projects, which have since become profitable business divisons. The first of these is Jewelboxing, a DVD design and packaging service. Coudal followed this with Field Notes, a range of designer stationery similar to Moleskines. The latest project is a digital ad network called Deck, which caters for design and digital creative websites, and serves more than 100 million ad impressions a month.
Coudal argues the cause of much unhappiness in the advertising industry is from incorrectly setting personal goals to achieve what you want now, and not what you'll want in the future.
The key to a good goal is trusting your own instincts, a "super power" which Coudal admits he only harnessed in the last few years. An example of poor consequences from not trusting his instincts was when Coudal agreed to sell Field Notes stationery through a large American retailer, even though his gut was against it. The deal fell through, but not before taking significant effort and finances from the agency.
Coudal urges creatives to trust their instincts more deeply.
"Ideas take the path of least resistance, and usually that means talking you out of them. Treat ideas like your most important client," he says.