Conventional wisdom says that big brands need big agencies. But more and more iconic brands, from Pepsi to First Direct, Levi’s to General Motors, are finding that size has a smaller impact than ever upon the agency’s ability to service their business.
To build on this point, let’s look at some of the critical ingredients of a successful agency-client relationship:
- Creative flair: Obviously it's a must for creative agencies, the smaller players know that to compete with the multi-award winning, world famous colossuses they have to bring their creative A-Game. ‘OK’ won’t cut the mustard but an original, insight-driven, beautifully-crafted idea can put any concerns over size to bed in an instant.
- Value for money: Price is rarely the deciding factor - marketing professionals are always keen to spend their budget, and it’s unusual for the cheapest solution to be the best. As proven by Aldi and countless other brands, finding the sweet spot where quality, price and efficiency intersect is crucial. Savvy marketers are getting wise to the over-inflated prices quoted by bigger agencies and are demanding more value from their partners so that their budget can be spent on delivering their vision rather than covering agency fees.
- Chemistry: Clients want to work with people they like and who are attentive, loyal and responsive. Ambitious brands know that smaller agencies are geared up to work as an extension of their team - outsiders on the inside - which makes it much easier to forge successful working relationships.
- Efficient account management: In a nutshell this means ‘not having to repeat yourself,’ and given the staff churn at bigger agencies, it’s almost inevitable that clients will find themselves involved in a seemingly endless repeat-cycle of brand immersion sessions, integration meetings and so on as the months go by. At smaller agencies this is much less likely as continuity is often provided by the founders as well as a hungry and motivated account team, both of whom rarely leave.
All of these differences were summed up by a senior marketer from one of the UK’s leading property brands who said on the excellent Small Spark Theory podcast: "Sometimes the smaller agencies are exactly what we want because they will work harder for you. You’re a big client for them and so they want to retain your business, which means it works beautifully for everyone.”
While the big agencies will argue that their size trumps all, astute marketers know that regardless of the size of the overall agency, the core team is made up of a handful of people that put in the hard yards. The plethora of others who might be spoken of as ‘part of the team’ at pitch stage have their own clients to look after, so the perceived advantage is actually a mirage.
And it’s an open secret that bigger agencies regularly outsource work to their smaller peers - they know that the boutiques can more than match them for creativity while bringing agility and pace, meaning the work gets done quicker but to the standards their clients expect (and pay for!)
Ambitious brands who are striving to stand out in increasingly crowded markets have realised that size isn’t everything; success comes from working with agencies that match their vision, not their size. While the big behemoth agencies struggle to adapt, a new breed of agile, high quality boutique agencies is quietly and efficiently transforming the landscape for brave and adventurous brands.