There comes a time in any company’s life cycle that they will need to partner with a creative agency of some kind. When this happens, some decision makers will shun smaller design agencies in favour of the larger, more corporate marketing agencies.
On the surface, they have good reason to do so. Bigger agencies are held in high regard within the marketing world; they have years of recognition and credibility under their belts, plenty of resources at their disposal, and massive portfolios packed with clients of all sizes from across the globe.
But is bigger really better? Many larger companies are starting to work with smaller and smaller agencies (OLCO Design included) for a plethora of reasons. For all of the gleaming accolades that large agencies bring to the table, it’s the creativity, productivity and overall marketing skill that really matters when selecting an agency.
Defining “Big” and “Small” Agencies
Marketing and creative agencies come in many different shapes and sizes. But for the purposes of this article, we’re going to have to draw a line in the sand as to what counts as “large” and what counts as “small”.
The term “large marketing agencies” conjures up images of huge advertising and PR houses like Ogilvy or M&C Saatchi. However an agency doesn’t need to be quite this acclaimed to count as a large agency – at least not in our book. In the UK, having more than 250 employees can place you in the “large business” category. Bigger agencies are generally headquartered in major cities, though their workforce may span multiple sites. They’ll serve clients of all sizes, from SMEs to multinationals. They can work on everything from small digital projects to large global TV and billboard campaigns.
Smaller, “boutique” agencies can vary wildly in size, but tend to have fewer than 50 employees. Some of their creatives may have experience of working in the large agency world, some may have occupied the smaller agency space since qualifying. These businesses tend to be based in a single office, or sometimes the whole team work remotely. Their clients tend to vary in size, but agencies at the smaller end of the scale may not have the same capacity to accommodate huge, global campaigns.
Why are Small Agencies Better Than Big Agencies?
Small Agencies Give a Much More Personal Service
In the past decade or so, there has been a significant shift towards more interpersonal relationships in business. The rise of content marketing and personal branding is testament to the statement that “people do business with people”.
Though large, esteemed agencies may be perfectly pleasant to work with, there may be times when they feel a little faceless and impersonal (see our comments about bureaucracy, below). Additionally, if something does go pear-shaped between a big agency and one of their clients, and that client decides to go elsewhere, they still have dozens more clients on their books.
That’s not to say that larger agencies are lacking in the customer services department, but they’re hypothetically in a safer position to simply “let an account go” if the agency-client relationship gets too tense.
However smaller agencies don’t have that luxury. They don’t have the capacity for anywhere as many clients, so losing one could be a much larger problem. Because smaller companies have more at stake, they’re much more committed to keeping each client happy. If a client relationship does go south, they’re likely to bend over backwards to put things right with a personal touch.
The Smaller the Agency, the Smaller the Chain of Command
Larger agencies often house plenty of raw creative talent, but their sheer size can put them at a disadvantage compared with smaller, more tight-knit teams. This is true of any company, not just agencies: the larger the organisation, the longer the chain of command.
In some larger firms, the creatives don’t have direct access to the client – they’re fed information about what’s needed through higher-ups or account managers. Understandably, this can slow down the creative process and lengthen the time it takes to revise drafts and generally complete a project.
However, smaller agencies are less likely to have this problem. With a smaller team, it’s more likely that the creatives will have a more direct relationship with the client and will be able to ask questions and respond to feedback without going through an intermediary. Small companies also enjoy a simpler, flatter internal structure, so information can disseminate through the ranks quickly.
Smaller Agencies Can Be More Agile in an Emergency
In a similarly bureaucratic vein, think about what happens when an urgent change of plan is required. Perhaps the client is facing an imminent PR issue or industry scandal. Because of the inherent levels of bureaucracy in a larger company, it takes time and energy for the situation to be fully communicated to the actual creatives working on the account. And once the work is complete, it still has to make its way back through the chain of command to the client. When time is of the essence, this can be a very inefficient way to work.
However, smaller agencies can take a much more expeditious approach. When a PR disaster crosses a client’s path, fewer people need to be briefed, so corrective action can be implemented quickly and efficiently.
Too Many Cooks Spoil the… Campaign
When it comes to brainstorming concepts and moulding ideas into sharp marketing collateral, a larger group of creatives throwing creative ideas around may sound ideal. However, having too many ideas in play at one time isn’t always beneficial.
It’s easy for a lack of clarity to emerge amongst larger groups, especially if they’re ineffectively managed. Or, due to the bureaucracy involved, the amount of people available to “stick their oar in” can dilute and diminish the impact of a once sharp campaign. Both situations can wither a team’s creative output.
But with a smaller team, it’s much easier to keep everyone on the same page and to acknowledge each individual’s contribution. The lean operation of a small agency encourages a more creatively focused and individually accountable atmosphere.
But marketing isn’t just about the ideas – it’s about productivity too. And as far as productivity is concerned, the smaller the group, the better. The Ringelmann effect – put forward by Maximilien Ringelmann in the early 20th Century – posits that individual members of a group will become increasingly less productive as the size of their group increases. In short, as team size grows, individual input decreases.
So with that in mind, it stands to reason that a small, focused band of professionals working single-mindedly on a campaign may well turn a project around quickly and industriously.
The Big One – Cost
In the “large vs. small” debate, this is a huge factor. Because large agencies employ more people, occupy large premises, and have bigger overheads, they’re much more likely to come with a larger price tag.
This isn’t to say that small agencies are cheap per se – we still have overheads and wages to pay – but we’re certainly much more affordable!
If you’re ready to start working with an agency on the smaller end of the scale, give the friendly team at OLCO Design a call! Our award-winning in-house design team are dedicated to achieving tangible, measurable results for each and every client. We can scale our services to companies of any size – from micro-businesses to multinationals! Get in touch today for a no-obligation chat.