Once You've Signed Big Clients, Should You Still Take on Small Ones?

It Could Backfire, but Potential for Great Creative Work Makes It Worth the Risk

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Many small agencies want to grow super fast, or seem bigger than they are, by landing big-name accounts. At Factory, we have multibillion-dollar global companies like The North Face, Oakley, Audi and Callaway Golf. But frequently we are approached by small companies without global brand-name recognition. When that occurs, we have to stop and ask ourselves: should we take the account?

Taking a smaller client does pose a few risks. It can be a colossal distraction of resources and dilute your client portfolio to the point where the agency looks non-strategic or, worse, desperate. But taking small clients can also offer benefits. There are fewer boundaries than with large companies and often more risk-taking, allowing the potential of great creative freedom, technical innovation and the dynamic momentum that will follow within the agency.

Given these two polar-opposite prospects, it's never easy to decide whether to take on a smaller brand. At Factory, we have gone with the small account about 20% of the time. We won't do so unless we can answer yes to each of the following questions:

Would we be a consumer of this brand?
Does the brand reflect the agency's core values?
Does the brand fit with current clients -- complementary and non-competitive?
Would this brand allow us great creativity and/or innovation?
Do we have a good feeling about the company, its executives and its value proposition?

Even if you are highly selective, large-marquee clients still could look askance at a smaller brand in the house. They may worry that it's competing for the agency's time and attention, or that a non-global brand will reflect badly on the agency's reputation. It's important that you be an honest partner and check with your core clients before making the move. Reassure them that you've fully vetted the smaller company and firmly believe it aligns with the agency's core values -- and that the smaller client will have its own team assigned to it.

Don't shy away from all small accounts, even if you're playing big. A few of these can add great energy to an agency and bring a fresh perspective to your core-client work.

Scott Melllin is CEO of Factory Design Labs.
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