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How can smaller agencies survive competition from the giants?

There are major digital agencies out there which have access to resources, marketing budgets and contacts most of us can only dream of.

Is there really any chance for a small agency to survive against this kind of competition?

Of course there is.

Small businesses survive and even flourish in many sectors against major competition. It’s just a matter of playing to your strengths.

There are plenty of fish in the sea

Just as digital agencies come in all shapes and sizes, so do potential clients. It’s easy to assume they’ll all want one of the big, prestigious agencies to work with them, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Think about it. Do you do all your shopping at Harrods? Or buy a Rolls Royce when you need a new car? Maybe you would if you could afford it – or perhaps you actually prefer the friendliness and service of a local shop, or the reliability of a more family-friendly car.

Many of your potential clients won’t necessarily want a large media house, and certainly not their prices. Regardless of the giants, there are plenty of small-to-medium businesses out there that will be looking for an agency like yours.

Play to your strengths

So what are the strengths of a small agency over the giants?

Well, one is manoeuvrability. Large companies rely on complex organisational machinery, which enables the whole organisation to run smoothly, but can be ponderous in responding to clients’ needs.

In a small agency like mine (and perhaps yours), decisions are made by just a few individuals who are used to consulting one another. This makes it possible for us to respond very quickly to a client’s requests. Our campaign is up and running while the giant would still be gearing up.

There again, working with a huge media house can sometimes feel like being thrown into the machinery and emerging in standardised packaging. Not all of them are that bad, of course, but there’s necessarily an impersonal feel to the corporate approach.

A small agency can take a specialist, boutique approach. Our clients are dealing with people, not an organisation, and their needs and values are looked after in a granular way. While some clients may consider impersonality a fair price for the clout the large media house offers, many prefer the personal relationship that can allow us, or other small agencies, to target very specifically where they need us to.

And, of course, there’s the cost.

It’s expensive to run a large corporation, and that tends to be reflected in their prices. A small boutique agency will often be able to offer not only a more precise, personal campaign, but offer it at a lower cost.

Increase your profile

Being small doesn’t have to mean being invisible. There are excellent networks out there – The Drum, of course, and also RAR, both of which Mahon Digital is listed on – which help clients find exactly the right agency for their specific needs.

And that could be you.

Saija Mahon is chief executive at Mahon Digital Marketing and was a speaker on the Small But Mighty panel at The Drum's Brief Encounters event

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