Today feels like a very good time to be in a smaller business. From craft beers trumping their gargantuan rivals in the fight for the drinker’s pound, to boutique investment banks beating the established titans to the juiciest M&A mandates, it feels like the vice-like grip of established brands across the board has begun to loosen. The same is true for corporate and financial PR firms. Ten years ago in most countries a comfortable duopoly existed (often in tandem with a pair of dominant investment banks) where every PR mandate simply landed in the laps of one of the two big guys. And it was fun while it lasted….
But now the sands have shifted. Smaller, leaner more creative firms are springing up all over the place. And the great news is that clients are seeing the benefit of taking the risk, not following the crowd and putting their trust in smaller agencies. Some of this is driven by a general sense of mistrust of big business that has seeped into our culture generally, but most of this is driven by a sudden recognition that clients simply get better service from smaller agencies. There are a number of reasons for this.
If you put your account with a small agency, you can bet your bottom dollar that you will be looked after properly by senior folk who have a vested interest (often to do with survival) to make sure that you receive the best possible service. In larger agencies the business model is often based on pushing the work down the tree as far as you can get away with before the client complains. Which means that seven figure retainers are often managed by twenty-something graduates in cubicles. Clients have got wise to this. They are buying experience and expertise and accountability and they have recognised that this rests with senior individuals and not with firms.
Stronger client commitment throughout the team
It’s an obvious point but if the boss is dedicated to the day to day running of a client account you can bet your bottom dollar that the rest of the team will be as well. Everyone has a clear sense of what the plan is and the steps needed to get there. It’s amazing how the lines of communication can break down in a larger agency.
Value for Money
An environment where a few big brands dominate often leads to flabbiness in fee structures. Smaller agencies tend to have much lower cost bases because they have fewer mouths to feed and have not succumbed to the temptation of wood panelled offices, Bollinger and first class travel. Put simply they can still make decent money and charge less for the mandate. Everyone wins. Except for the airlines.
A Motivated culture
It’s really simple. We’ve worked in agencies of all sizes and it is MUCH more fun working in a small agency environment. We laugh a lot. We share ideas. We don’t measure individual success on fees generated or pitches won. We treat each other with respect. This might seem fluffy but it has two important ramifications from a client perspective – we don’t offer cookie cutter approaches to communications and we can tap into expertise where we need it across our network. It also means that we are still willing and motivated to learn – there is no room for complacency in a smaller business.
We have set our own stall out on being as helpful as we can – to our clients, to our industry, but also, critically to each other. We figure that if we do a good enough job with this simple mantra, the success and the money will continue to roll in.