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Project Work Might Not Be So Bad After All: Ad Age Small Agency Conference

Execs Say It Can Work Well, but There Is a Dark Side

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Amy Cotteleer, chief creative officer at A2G; Jeremy Crisp, managing partner at Nail Communications; Sandy Greenberg, co-president at Terri & Sandy; Greg March, CEO of Noble People; and Ad Age reporter Alexandra Bruell.
Amy Cotteleer, chief creative officer at A2G; Jeremy Crisp, managing partner at Nail Communications; Sandy Greenberg, co-president at Terri & Sandy; Greg March, CEO of Noble People; and Ad Age reporter Alexandra Bruell. Credit: Mitchell Zachs / AP Images for Advertising Age

Much has been said about the state of agency-marketer relationships in the past couple of years, with large network agencies in particular bemoaning the decline of long-term retainer accounts. But small agency executives on Wednesday said they welcome the rise of project work.

It's not a totally surprising sentiment. After all, small agencies tend to operate with more projects more of the time, and it's often financially easier for them than it is for a large multinational agency.

But Amy Cotteleer, founder and chief creative officer at A2G, said that as wonderful as retainer clients can be for things like predictable cash flow, project work also allows for more efficiency and even more creativity. Project work sometimes allows agencies to suggest fresh approaches that might be harder in a longtime relationship with a lot of legacy work built up, she suggested. Employees can also get more excited because they can work on a project all the way through.

Having multiple projects means that shops depend less on two big retainer clients, the loss of which can be devastating, Ms. Cotteleer added.

Agencies, of course, need to make sure they have enough projects coming in to remain financially stable. "As long as there's a critical mass of projects coming in ... it keeps it interesting for people who work for your agency," said Jeremy Crisp, managing partner at Nail Communications, during a panel at Ad Age's Small Agency Conference in Miami.

"The cost of acquisition of projects is so much lower," added Greg March, CEO of Noble People.

But Sandy Greenberg, co-founder and co-president at Terri & Sandy, took a different point of view, saying that although projects can be good, the word "project" is often "the devil." She said her agency was invited to a pitch for a "one of the biggest beverage companies in the world" along with five to seven other agencies.

But her agency asked the potential client whether they would have to keep pitching in the future even if they won this time, enduring an endless run of jump balls for work. The marketer said yes, she said.

"So we're going to work for free ... to give you our ideas so you can decide if we're good enough and even then the agency would have to pitch the business again?" Ms. Greenberg said. "There is a side to the word 'project; that is of less value to the agencies."

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