The best things come in small packages. Why there's no better time to work with or for a smaller comms agency.
Subject: Pitch outcome
We've decided to go with a bigger team. We're worried about your capacity to deliver this project.
Ouch. Those of us who've ever worked for a small to medium sized agency, actually even a larger agency but within a smaller specialist team, will have heard these words before.
We'll grow, we'll get new fancy offices, we'll take you to those cool bars the big guys take you to. Is usually what I'm thinking but has never quite slipped out (luckily!).
Nothing you can do at this point will help change their mind. Your potential client has decided that their big important project is more than you can handle. It hurts but you'll get over it. Because for every Comms or Marketing Manager with this approach there are ten more who would rather work with a smaller, more experienced team.
In fact I've been hearing this sort of thing less and less. Increasingly savvy comms professionals are turning to smaller boutique agencies for a better service, a refreshing approach and more innovative and creative ideas.
So why are smaller independent agencies winning and retaining some of the most exciting and covetable accounts?
1) Small = agile
Big agencies are like any large organisation. Generally clunky, beurocratic and hierarchical. Their structure means that change is tough. In an environment that demands creativity, cutting edge technology and industry firsts they are never going to be able to give their clients the edge above their competitors in the same way a smaller agency can.
2) Small = expert
Large agencies rely on a large team of account managers and comms generalists to advise their clients. Specialists' time is expensive and therefore rationed. As a good graduate you can be promoted quickly and could be working as an Account Manager within 3 years. As a client you could find yourself paying £1,000 a day for someone with only a few years experience and no experience working client-side at all.
Small agencies tend to be staffed by more experienced consultants who offer more specialised services. At KVA Digital for example we don't have 'account handlers'. All members of our team are experts in their field and have experience managing accounts for large clients.
3) Small = value for money
Yes, a large agency may have a beautiful office with a bar and fizzy water on tap. Yes, they may take you out to the Ivy. But you know you're not getting all this for free right? Large agencies incorporate travel costs, meeting costs and entertainment costs into their budgets. Smaller agencies have smaller overheads and can pass these savings onto their clients.
4) Small = people stick around
It's true. Really. Smaller agencies tend to be better places to work. They offer their teams a better work-life balance. They could be based anywhere in the country which means their employees could actually afford to buy a house or rent something bigger than a cupboard or a bed in what may as well be a hostel. A perk which was completely out of reach to me when I was living and working in London. They tend to be more flexible and give their staff more opportunity to get involved with the business.
Overall (I think) they offer a better environment to work in and therefore their retention rate is better. This means you are less likely to have your point of contact disappear half way through an important project.
5) Small = we really care
It sounds cliche but to a small agency you're not just a number on a page. A large project is likely to make up a large proportion of their income and a good relationship could represent a big chunk of income over the year. A smaller agency will also by definition have fewer clients. You will have more of the senior team's attention representing better value for money for you and your company.
6) Small = fun and cool
The rise and rise of the challenger brand has demonstrated that small and new can be fun and cool. Most people who leave an agency to set up their own do it because they want to create an environment that's different to the one they've come from. They attract others who want to throw off the shackles of the corporate world and shake things up a little bit.
If you want to work with a team who challenge you to think differently about your project, choose a boutique agency who will challenge you to hang up your corporate hat - even if just for one day.