When bad things happen I think it's good to make a list of all of the reasons I want to work at a small agency. So here's my list:
Freedom: Even if you are working on the lowest rung of the small-agency ladder you are enjoying more freedom than someone with years of experience in a larger agency. You are given more responsibility because there are fewer people to do things. Sure, you have to do a lot of grunt work. That's the price of freedom and it is quite reasonable. Besides, it can be therapeutic to lick stamps and find your own mailing labels.
Family: I mentioned to an employee candidate the other day that our group is really just a big family. That's an easy situation to have when you have less than three-dozen people. I know there may come a day where we're big enough that it's hard to know everyone. The agency might be stronger at what it does and our opportunities might be better, but we'll refer to the days when we were few as the good ol' days. I intend to enjoy the ride.
Dreams: I know why my agency is here. We want to build a reputation for excellence that will be the envy of the industry from the ground up. We know the odds are against us, and that's another reason we want do it. There is danger in trying to make a dream come true. But short of a comet hitting the earth, nothing will stop our trying. I'm not giving up because I lose a client or a great employee, not even if I'm the last one here.
Hope: There are many of you out there who are working in the worst of agencies. You dream of doing better work and your agency just wants to crank it out. My first agency was run by a very nice man whose favorite statement was, "The client signs the check on the front and I sign them on the back." That hardly encouraged me, as I know that one of Bill Bernbach's favorite statements was "A principle isn't a principle until it costs you something." I get a lot of encouragement from others who cheer us on for trying to stand for something. I know there are fewer agencies like us than there are the check-back signers. Don't worry. We're not changing the way we feel.
Courage: When I graduated from college my heroes were those who had just begun making their agencies models of excellence. Pat Fallon, Mike Hughes, Dan Wieden, Lee Clow, Jeff Goodby were all young men who were just trying to do great work. I doubt they were thinking about becoming icons. I admire their work of course, but what I really want to emulate is their ability to build a company of people that stands for something in an industry that sells out more than anyone will admit. They are still doing it today. I'll never stop trying to do the same. For, like John Paul Jones, I know it's not the dog in the fight, it's the fight in the dog that matters most.