Interviews With Small Agency Leaders: Part Three

'There's Nothing More Uninteresting Than a Big Agency in a Little Agency Body'

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
This is the third in a series of collected thoughts by various small firms across the country. (Part One. Part Two.) Our guests this week: Tim Brunelle of Hello Viking, Minneapolis; Tripp Westbrook of Firehouse, Dallas; Jonathan Schoenberg of TDA, Denver; and Jack Anderson of Hornall Anderson, Seattle.

Readers, in our past two postings you have added to the discussion with relevant and enlightened comments. Please feel free to give your view on any of these questions in our comments section.

Question 1: What epitomizes relevant differences between a small firm and a big one?

Jack Anderson: While big firms can tend to be process-driven and focused on protocol, smaller firms often function more intuitively, focusing on innovation as opposed to mitigating bureaucratic thinking. This enables them to give more attention to their clients.

Tim Brunelle: The truth is, brilliance does not equate to square footage in a major city. Clients are realizing they can take advantage of strong, relevant ideas without the additional costs associated with mass agencies.

Jonathan Schoenberg: There seems to be a mandate from big companies to their marketing departments to have [a small agency] on the roster these days. We just did some work with Johnson & Johnson and are right now being asked to create a product with a super large soda company we would not have expected a call from a year ago.

Question 2: What is distinct about your firm's approach?

Tripp Westbrook: By being smart, scrappy and opportunistic with the dollars our clients do have, we can take a No. 4 or 5 player in a category and help them move up a rung or two. That makes our clients a lot of money.

Tim Brunelle: [Being] fluent in every discipline in order to be highly relevant, and to be able to unearth innovative ideas.

Question 3: Beyond the work, what have you done or what attitude do you display that attracts people to your company?

Jack Anderson: Anybody from [the client's] office could work at our office, and vice versa.

Tim Brunelle: We accept trial and error; we charge headfirst into the unknown, we're not afraid to make the necessary mistakes in order to uncover opportunity amidst chaos.

Jonathan Schoenberg: Growing without losing what makes people want to work with you in the first place.

Question 4: What is the best piece of advice you would give another small-firm owner?

Tripp Westbrook: Honestly, there's nothing more uninteresting than a big agency in a little agency body. It's the worst of both worlds. Embrace who you are, focus on the benefits and celebrate what makes you great. Before you know it, your business will actually be bigger.

Tim Brunelle: Creating culture will create profit. Creating profit will not necessarily create culture (at least, one you enjoy).

Question 5: What happens at your place that makes you smile?

Jack Anderson: We have several instances where employees have been with our firm for 10 to 20 years. Then there are a few who had moved on to other opportunities, only to return to our firm a few years later.

Tripp Westbrook: Seeing the agency nearly double in employees and more than double in billings during one of the most trying economic times in recent memory. Yeah, that feels pretty good.

Jonathan Schoenberg: Creating a condom company called Sir Richards that we partnered with a local equity firm on, and has some real potential. We will be giving away one condom in a developing country for each condom sold.

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