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The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast

Apr 18, 2019

Joseph Jaffe, Admiral and Co-Founder of the HMS Beagle, a small consulting boutique agency, opens this interview with the story of how the HMS Beagle, the British ship that 200 years ago, carried Darwin to the Galapagos Islands, a voyage that inspired Darwin’s theories of evolution and the survival of species.

He then explains how the amazing pace of change in today’s business environment forces all businesses, from small startups to “large, lethargic legacy corporations,” to be in the “survival business.” Small businesses understand their vulnerability. Large institutions don’t. Joseph believes, if the government does not break up large corporations like Amazon and Google, the organizations will, ultimately, break themselves.

So, what is the fast track to survival?

Adaptability to change.

For today’s agencies, this means keeping a small, strong core of talent; creating a highly branded, scalable, expandable, cut-and-paste-able structure; and contracting with “armies of partners from mercenaries, freelancers, boutiques.” Joseph does not believe in “long contracts.” He feels effective change can result from a no longer that a three month “workshop” engagement, followed by small scale advisory interventions.

Joseph spoke at the 2019 South by Southwest conference on: “Built to Suck: The Inevitable Demise of the Corporation . . . and How to Save It?” He’s also the author of a book by the same name.

Joseph believes that corporations, by their very nature, suck and that the very things that helped large companies grow will bring them down:

  • Size: The size, scalability, economies and efficiencies of scale, and cost-cutting ultimately creates a strangling overhead of politicization, dysfunctionality, siloization, risk-aversion, and conservatism. The world is speeding up. Big corporations, dragging anchor, are slowing down.
  • Age: Companies that started before 1980 are less likely to last . . . the baggage of legacy is not always a good thing.
  • Public Ownership: Being a public company is the kiss of death.
  • Culture: The cultures in big corporations don’t reward failure and the ability to change.

Joseph foresees massive cultural disruptions as technological advances change our priorities and what we value. He predicts that the substantial shift from tangible to intangible, from commodities to services, will result in the cataclysmic collapse of the real estate market. He believes companies need to change their focus from “courting strangers (first time buyers) and prostitutes (a customer who arbitrarily switches brands) to strengthening loyalty and community with their established customers.

On his “Built to Suck” website, Jeff offers a free-to-download Survival Planning Canvas, a template that underpins the HMS Beagle process.

Joseph can be reached on his company’s website at: or at his email at: