Is This the Golden Age for Small Agencies?

Roles Redefined as Markets Shift and Client Needs Change

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Marc Brownstein
Marc Brownstein
For many decades, a small agency knew its role: Serve similar-size clients so both organizations will be important to each other.

That appears to be changing pretty quickly. Small agencies are serving large clients with greater frequency. A variety of factors are involved, including large marketers' desires to spread out business across multiple shops; the need for nimble, but equally smart, agencies to think more and be structured to deliver a big tactical workload seamlessly; the need to integrate work better than the global shops; and the pressure to reduce costs without impacting the quality of the work.

Call it the result of the recession-scarred business landscape, where decision makers have to do more for less. Or an outcome of technology that has enabled smaller agencies to behave like big ones like never before. Or the increased pressure on CMOs to drive results sooner. Whatever the case, I believe we are entering a golden era for small agencies.

Before I go on, I want to acknowledge that, for as long as ad agencies have been around, small agencies were embraced by large marketers. How else would David Ogilvy build a global empire if, for example, Rolls Royce or American Express didn't give him a chance? And Weiden & Kennedy was small before Nike hired it. Same for Crispin, Goodby and our whole industry of large shops. Of course they started small.

My point is that, for the last few decades, unless a small shop was able to scale itself with a large, growing client and ride that client to a new level, or sell itself to a larger competitor, the opportunities to serve global marketers with strategic thinking were limited. Now, however, smart, large enterprises are waking up to the reality that great work comes in all sizes of ad agencies. And they are structuring themselves in a way that they can tap a large agency for a specific scope of work, and a handful of smaller shops for a specialty scope.

And I believe this is a growing trend, one like never before. I've been talking with a number of small agency CEOs in recent months, and they all agree that the doors to the CMO's office are more accessible now than in recent memory. As the world changes how it communicates, companies need to stay ahead of the changes. Who better to advise and guide them than shops that are agile and plugged into the latest trends, allowing clients to embrace this change faster, and more affordably?

While I don't believe a large client's agency-of-record picks will suddenly shift to smaller shops everywhere, I do think these clients will simply add to that roster, a very good sign for all of you reading this.

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