Union Creative Director, Michael Hart, muses on the importance (or not) of the size of a creative agency and what scale does and doesn’t offer clients.
Sizing up the contenders.
Small is beautiful. Big is reliable. No-one got fired for hiring IBM.
We’re all familiar with the maxims. In the communications world the small, fleet-of-foot startups sit in one corner while the big guns squat in the other. The small players will say they have smaller overheads, less bureaucracy, quicker reaction times. The big ones counter with scale, experience, dependability.
Why do we have this obsession with size? Does headcount influence creativity or effectiveness? Small agencies that are good don’t tend to stay small for long. And big agencies that stop being good quickly become small. And let’s not get started on when is small no longer small and when does medium-sized become big.
Most small businesses aspire to be big one day. And most medium-sized ones aim to be bigger. It’s not unreasonable to assume that joining forces with those who’ve been on that journey may help them get there quicker.
“Success in the future has nothing to do with big or small – the winners and losers today, and in the future, will be determined by a different metric: collaborative vs. non-collaborative.” – Ty Montague
Size, or lack of it, still presents an invisible barrier to both when it comes to new business.
Pitches can be lost because the big agency is deemed ‘too big’ and the small agency not big enough (or because they don’t have a London postcode but that’s for another time). There’s the worry that clients with small budgets will get neglected by big agencies, and that small ones won’t be able to cope. Agencies don’t neglect clients, people do. Just like people come up with ideas and strategies. You just need to make sure you’ve got enough of the good ones.
Let’s take the pitch team – that dedicated core group of strategists, confidantes and problem solvers. They will, give or take, be the same size no matter the size of the agency. And if you have more talent at your disposal you should be able to field a stronger team. But beyond the skillset you need passion, stamina and intuition. And versatility. In order to collaborate fully you need people who can move effortlessly between channels and topics; from consumer trends and nascent digital technology to data and behavioural economics. You need to be able to offer a range of skills and expertise as needs and opportunities change. You need to be on the front foot. And never off it.
Those are the real measures.
Don’t worry about the girth of your agency. Worry about its ability to deliver big ideas.
Worry about its ability to be a trusted, strategic partner. Worry about the depth of its thinking and its commitment to your cause.
Then again, if you’re with a good agency you shouldn’t be worrying at all.