I’ve mentioned before that my real competitors often are not other agencies, but Fiefdoms, Silos and Inertia. But sometimes, I actually compete — and lose — to other agencies. I’m OK with losing an agency search to a well-qualified, innovative and imaginative agency. Really. But I can’t stand losing to another agency “because they were bigger.” What a crock. It’s part of what I call “The Myth of the Big Agency”:
The big agency has more people
The big agency has more resources
The big agency has more connections
The big agency has more ideas
The big agency has more talent
My response, in a word, bullshit.
The reality for most agencies, big or small, is that a client account team is usually comprised of a small, focused team of people who work on behalf of a client to perform — and sometimes outperform — their objectives based on the client’s budget. That last point is what clients sometimes overlook. A big agency does not mean big results. It does not mean, necessarily, bigger teams. It sometimes means bigger overhead (someone has to pay for the nice offices, it may as well be you).
With a big agency you may gain access to the best writers and other creatives they have on staff. You may gain access to additional resources they have developed and can fit into your fee structure. You may gain access to the senior-level decision makers if your budget can afford their bill rates.
Connections? Ideas? Talent? Big is neither a requirement nor a guarantee for these things.
What brought on this rant? A recent loss to a “big agency” of a client in an industry we truly understand. Four months in and the winning agency has changed account reps three times. Why? The first two reps left to go to other big agencies (LinkedIn is a wonderful tool). And we have not seen the agency win nearly the press pick-up we have for our other clients. In fact, we haven’t seen them win nearly the press pick-up they have for some of their other clients either, which says to me the constant turnover and smaller budget of this client is a challenge. Oh yes, we’re watching; I said it was a competition.
So, any moral to this tale? Maybe. Before you make a decision that a “big agency” is better than a “small agency,” make sure to ask how many people will actually work on your account, interview all the account people and call some current clients for references.
Because hiring an agency just because they are big is small thinking.