The article below is “must-reading” for the advertiser or marketer who seeks great results combined with astute, savvy fiscal jurisprudence.
For the few of you who know me and the many who do not, I have always been a staunch advocate and avid supporter of small agencies for many reasons. It is a fact, and I can prove it, that small agencies can knock the socks off those hulking ad-factories, if given the opportunity. You’ve heard the obvious reasons why: closer day-to-day involvement, principals who personally work on your business, etc. But there are many other compelling reasons. Here are a few more that rank high on my list:
1. You get better creative. Need proof? Just look at the awards shows and see which agencies take the most awards relative to size. And remember, the true creative process will always be just a couple or a few people sitting in a room throwing ideas around. The big shops can never own that.
2. Small agencies are less expensive. Small shops cost less. Their billable rates are lower. That doesn’t mean they’re cheaper; it means they’re leaner and more efficient. Anyone who has ever worked at a mega-agency can testify to the indiscriminate waste that takes place, usually with the client’s money. Without massive overhead and unnecessary staffing, small shops can provide the highest level of creative and service for fair compensation.
3. Small shops make a client’s money go further. Small agencies are experts at making small budgets go further. They have to be – or stand no chance of ever being noticed amid the clutter. One way is by trying to produce attention-getting advertising. Another way is by squeezing the most value out of limited media budgets. Of course, no one can deny the media-buying clout of the big boys. But with a lot of hard work, lots of finesse and the use of one of the many powerful and highly professional media-buying services, any small agency “worth its salt” can match the pure dollar advantage of larger agencies. Just imagine what we could do with really big accounts.
4. Substance over surface. Because small agencies generally (though not always) work with small budgets, they can’t afford to allow execution to overshadow content. As a result, ideas have to work uncamouflaged by excessive production values. That means goodbye to the useless helicopter or drone shots, the unnecessary high-tech visuals, the mandatory Jamaican locations, the mega-dollar celebrity endorsers and the overpriced models (we may make an exception here). Instead, small shops unglamorously create advertising that stands or fails on ideas alone.
5. Clients are more important to small shops. It always amazes me that $1-5 million clients still go to agencies that bill $500 million. What are they thinking of? Sure, the agency at first will promise you the world, but the reality is that big agencies can’t afford little clients. If a client represents 1% of an agency’s billings, then the people who do the majority of work on that account will most likely represent 1% of the agency’s salary pool – along with the cleaning lady and security guard thrown in. At a small agency, you get the attention you deserve. If a small agency loses a $5-million piece of business, that’s very bad news. If a big agency loses the same, heck, all that means is six more worker-creatives hit the street, plus maybe an account person or two.
6. At small agencies, people aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty. This doesn’t mean the obligatory photo I saw recently of the honchos of a top-five agency standing proudly in aprons behind the counter of their fast-food client with “See, we do anything for a client” grins on their faces. What it does mean is that smaller shops are prepared to handle those necessary aspects of a client’s business that are normally too demeaning for big agencies. Collateral, in-store displays, direct mail and packaging are projects with which many small shops are happy to be involved.
7. Small shops are “apolitical.” At small shops, the staff is too busy to know anything about or be involved in corporate politics.
8. Small shops are faster. Speed, quality, price: Choose any two. At least that’s the old wisdom. The small agency not only has to compete with the level of service delivered by giant agencies, it has to be better at it. So, we find ways to deliver quality at a fair price much faster than those cumbersome large shops. During one of my large agency tenures, I remember having a week to review / evaluate exclusively a print ad for one of the nation’s largest fast-food chains. As usual, the ad was done the night before the presentation – it’s amazing how well people work under pressure. Small agencies exist under greater pressures and so learn how to work with greater efficiency. For many of our clients, it’s always the night before the presentation and the week before the ad has to run.
9. Small shops are friendlier. This isn’t a joke. The people who work at smaller, close-knit agencies are generally more personable and warmer. That’s why they’re there. They enjoy working in a freer, looser environment. In small agencies we know the people we work with as people – not just as business associates. Big agencies, by and large, breed coldness and conformity. In my opinion, if more clients worked with smaller agencies, they would not only appreciate the inherent effectiveness and cost-efficiency of small agencies, they would also respect our business more.
10. Small agencies need every client. Big agencies don’t. In fact, the reason why large agencies have client lists and post them everywhere is so they can remember who their clients are. Small agencies don’t need lists. Their clients are part and parcel of everything for whom they work. As the client’s business grows, so does the small agency’s business. As the client succeeds, so does the agency. And as with many clients, the people who either own or work at smaller agencies make it work. Or you know where they’ll end up.
Like you, I’m passionate about the advertising business and I am constantly stretching my mind to the nth degree to increase the effectiveness of our agency’s creative product and the cost-efficiency of our operation, while enhancing the quality of our account service. Kudos to the small agency and its boundlessly energetic, hard-working, dedicated staff.
Ron Owens is President, Ron Owens & Associates, a consultancy which specializes in market development, branding and diversity, inclusion & equity. Co-founder & principal of Laughlin Marinaccio & Owens (aka LMO Advertising), Ron is the former VP, TMP Worldwide; VP, Bozell Worldwide; Director, Worldwide Advertising & PR, Pitney Bowes, a Fortune 500 Company. Currently, Co-Chair, Better Business Bureau, Ron is the former Governor, 4A’s; Lt Gov, AAF; and Committee Chair, ANA. He frequently gives lectures at regional colleges / universities and writes advertising industry trade articles. Ron can be reached via [email protected].