Manchester focus: Is there a sense of big agency dominance or are smaller agencies leading the way?

With more and more small agencies cropping up in Manchester, do the smaller agencies offer more value for money? Or are they just small fish in a big pond? The Drum asks ‘is there a sense of big agency dominance or are smaller agencies leading the way?’


Andy Gallacher, associate director, markettiers4dc You only have to look at recent awards wins to see that there’s room for ‘boutique’ and ‘big hitters’ on the Manchester agency scene.

Paul Austin, CD, ADZ Media Smaller agencies will always challenge the big boys in terms of creative work, and being smaller means you can react to new technologies and trends quicker - if only because of the lack of red tape. The fact the small agencies can now attract the really big clients shows that there has been a shift in perception from the client. It used to be the thinking that ‘bigger agency means better work’ but that's now changed.

Natalie Gross, CEO, Amaze It is too difficult to think of the services agencies offer as homogenous. Larger agencies are inevitably better equipped to deliver strong digital strategy and full(er) service propositions. Smaller agencies are delivering well in niche areas from content to technologists to media. Manchester has a unique opportunity to leverage the skills and expertise of large and small agencies, and working out how they fit together should be a major focus of the new bodies that will form to represent the industry and support its growth.

Chris Garratt, MD, Bert There’s a good blend of smaller agencies really pushing things: ourselves, Young, and some of the guys in Islington Mill are producing some brilliant work right now. Larger agencies like Creative Lynx were brilliant when we first moved across from Yorkshire, helping supply us with contacts and referrals. The climate is really making agencies pull together.

Kate Cox, MD, de Winter The responsiveness and freshness that comes out of small, nimble agencies has helped flip this on its head. The city has some outstanding big agencies, but the entrepreneurial and dynamic spirit that arises out of an economic downturn has opened up the platform for smaller, more agile agencies to walk out from the shadows of the big boys and own the space, win the awards, generate real impact and recruit the very best.

Rob Mortimer, account planner/digital strategist, CheethamBellJWT One of the great things about Manchester is that it encompasses agencies of all sizes, right the way down to tiny start-up agencies. There are still big agencies, but it never feels like the large agencies dwarf the smaller ones. The good thing about awards, like the Roses, is that they allow bigger agencies to see the creativity that comes from smaller agencies, and in the end that drives everybody forward.

Garry Byrne, MD, Reading Room I think there's a very equal mix - the big agencies continue to refine their offering to account for the fact the smaller agencies continue to make a focused impact. It's led to a really buzzing ecosystem where a typical agency roster can be made up of all manner of talent, offerings and size. Importantly, there's a real, honest willingness to support each other.

Tony Foggett, CEO, Code Computerlove

I think big and small is really an irrelevancy; capability and agility are the traits that are really defining the leaders in the industry…and in the city. The continued change to the media landscape and consumer consumption has shaken up the scene, and those agencies that are agile and adaptive enough to cater for client’s shifting needs have prospered. However, the change has also brought complexity, which plays into the hands of those agencies that can integrate specialism under one roof.

Nick Rhind, CEO, CTI Digital Small agencies are making a big impact in niche areas such as AR, mobile, social gaming. The big agencies aren't suffering from that as the briefs are usually smaller ideas, trials and prototypes or have no ROI therefore the investment is smaller. However, this may change over the next two years as business models change from potentially sales to brand awareness or lifestyle.

Brian Rees, chairman, the if agency There will always be a small number of big agencies, hopefully, some of the smaller teams will eventually replace them.

Jane Hudson, MD, Forever Creative Clients will always be drawn to big agencies for the kudos factor and for large clients the bigger agencies are an obvious choice as they have the infrastructure to cope with their requirements. However for clients with small to medium sized budgets they are often disappointed when they realise they are a small fish in a big pond. Increasingly, clients are coming to us because they want to work with a smaller agency that can provide them with the level of service and director input they have found difficult to access at some of the bigger agencies. There is also obviously a price factor as smaller agencies can take advantage of their lower overheads and offer a very cost-effective, quality service for clients. Sometimes the best route for a client is to take on a roster of agencies so they get the best of both worlds. This seems to be an increasingly popular solution for larger clients in the North West.

Andy Stones, client services director, Native Studio

Partnerships, JVs and white label projects are bridging the gap between ‘them and us’ – as we’re getting approached with increasing frequency to provide discreet digital support on integrated projects for our friends at big agencies. We’ve also started working with a couple of clients who previously had only worked with the big boys. Both wanted to dip their toe in the refreshing waters of a smaller agency. And those weren't just price-led decisions – although that did come into it. It was more about product, agility and service.

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