Interviews With Small Agency Leaders: Part 2

Ad Execs Discuss Their Size Advantages

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
This is the second in a series of collected thoughts by various small firms across the country. (Part 1 can be found here.) Our guests: Carolyn Hadlock of Young & Laramore, Indianapolis; John Vitro of Vitro Robertson, San Diego, Calif.; Cabell Harris of Work Labs, Richmond, Va.; and David Baldwin of Baldwin&, Durham, N.C.

As before, readers, feel free to answer these questions in our comments section. We welcome your point of view.

Question 1. Who has the biggest advantage in this economy: big or small firms?

Carolyn Hadlock, Young & Laramore: I'd much rather be looking at the future from a small-agency position than a big one. Small agencies are getting opportunities today they never would have had even five years ago. Clients are moving at the speed of light. Larger agencies are having a harder time staying agile in this economy.

John Vitro, Vitro Robertson: The lines between a big shop and a mid-size shop like ours are much more blurred than they used to be. While most large agencies have built themselves on broadcast (and ignored print), we were able to offer clients something that they couldn't get at the big shops by creating beautiful, thoughtful ways to connect with their clients. As the role of digital has grown, we've been able to move into that space faster than many who haven't been as nimble while bringing the craft that was always so important within our work.

Question 2: Most agencies think they are different, but it's shades of gray. Most sound the same. What have you done to shape your firm to be truly different?

Cabell Harris, Work Labs: Whether we're creating an advertising campaign that will break through the clutter or bringing our own products to market, we know we are ultimately in the idea business. We publish books. We brew our own beer. We're designers, writers, strategists, professors and students.

David Baldwin, Baldwin&: So many agencies talk about being experts in all fields and then BS their way through. For instance, have you noticed how many people are saying they're social-media 'gurus' now? We ended our name with an Ampersand for a reason. We are committed to the ideas and then finding the right partners to get them done. We know what we're good at and we know what we're not.

Question 3: What has the current economy done to help small agencies, and what advice would you give other small agencies to take advantage of what is going on?

John Vitro, Vitro Robertson: Embrace the business. Stop bitching about clients, budgets or how many hours it takes to be better than the guys down the street. Doing good work is hard, but not doing it gives us nothing in return for the hours we spend. It's a choice we make. If you don't like these things, do something else.

Carolyn Hadlock, Young & Laramore: What we are finding is that clients demand ideas more than services now -- which is refreshing. We believe in being proactive, in taking in ideas before a client thinks of them. The term "full service" is becoming an antiquated one. Nimbleness, resourcefulness and creativity are key to solving client's problems today.

Question 4: What one moment would you point to as an illustration of success?

Cabell Harris, Work Labs: Moments are fleeting. I hope in the future to look back over a large body of work and be proud of its consistency over the years.

David Baldwin, Baldwin&: Hiring our first person beyond our founders was quite gratifying. It just felt great.

Question 5: In one sentence, sum up your agency.

Carolyn Hadlock, Young & Laramore: Anti-established in 1983, Y&L consistently challenges conventional wisdom.

David Baldwin, Baldwin&: We call the company a creative practice because though we're an advertising agency, we'll do anything that lets us live our mission, which is to use creativity to make a difference.

Cabell Harris, Work Labs: We're all brought together by one common belief: Nothing is more compelling than a smart idea, executed well.

John Vitro, Vitro Robertson: The crafting and humanity that was so important to our earliest work is even more important today.

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