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June 30, 2014

Does It Ever Make Sense to Hire a Large Agency?

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large-agencyA good friend of mine recently quit her job as a creative director at a large East Coast agency. On more than one occasion she would get in the elevator with the executive creative director and try to fill him in on the status of the account in the 90 or so seconds it took to get to the meeting with the client.

Several times she was put in charge of a new account but was assigned no full-time employees. So her role wasn’t so much overseeing the team dedicated to the account as it was trying to create the illusion that there was a team dedicated to the account. All in the name of squeezing as much margin out of the new revenues that the new business team had managed to drag in the door.

Layoffs were built into the rhythm of the place. Long-time, beloved employees were let go without warning or apparent reason. This sense of the gun being against your head at all times created an atmosphere of fear and distrust. When problems arose, the instinct wasn’t to rally together to find a way to solve them, rather a subtle, psychological dance began between all parties connected to the “problem.” People would earnestly try to appear to be a team player while carefully positioning themselves to avoid any blame splattering on them while taking any opportunity to slide a co-worker into the line of fire.

Oh, and did I mention the stock price of this agency’s holding company has nearly quadrupled in the last four years?

As the creative partner of a small agency, I watch all this with bemused detachment. My life is so much simpler. I am in the trenches every day with our clients. They present us their business challenges, and we try like hell to come up with smart, creative, surprising communications solutions that can contribute to solving them.

If we do a good job, they ask us to do it again.

Now let’s say you’re the CMO of some awesome company (oh, please please please be the CMO of an awesome company…) You are looking to hire a marketing firm to help you with a big campaign to launch a new product.

If you approached us, we would (after changing our underwear) define the scope of work and build a team around it — probably 15-to-20 people, which is a good chunk of our little firm.

If you headed over to that big 1,000-plus person agency for the same campaign, you know how many people they’d put on it? Probably 15 to 20 — tiny sliver of their big firm.

The difference? You know exactly which 15-to-20 people you’d be getting from us (practically all of us), our senior people would come to the meeting knowing the nitty-gritty details of your business, we wouldn’t have to charge you to cover the overhead of the 985 people who will never work on your project. Our team knows, likes, and trusts each other, and we would not have 20 other equally important campaigns going on simultaneously.

Of course, there is a place for big agencies: your investment portfolio.

But if you want a team of smart, creative, passionate people who will throw themselves into your business, there is a growing number of smaller firms made up of folks who wanted out of the suffocating, bottom-line driven world of the big agency holding companies. Drop me a line and I’ll recommend a few for you.

Topics: Leadership & Management New Business & Sales

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