Small Shops Should Be Part of Balanced Review Process

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

As agency representatives from around the country and the world make their now-annual pilgrimage to the center of U.S. advertising for Advertising Week, we'd like to remind them -- and marketers -- that there is a great world of action beyond the traditionally large shops centered in New York.

This is not to "malign" big agencies, as Martin Sorrell has suggested we're doing.

He was right when he told a group recently that the "Goliaths are picking up share while the Davids are really under pressure, particularly as credit markets remain frozen."

The recession has definitely prompted some degree of consolidation into the big networks and agencies, which can trim costs by sharing resources across clients. And the truth is that many marketers still buy in silos and therefore are going to tend to want a media shop, an ad shop, a PR shop or a direct shop. All of these things can typically be found under the roof of one large holding company (implying that those silos will work together seamlessly).

But it strikes us as simplistic to consider big agencies as something akin to safe harbor in tough times. If a big shop is delivering a combination of the scale and work that a brand demands, then of course it's a smart bet.

There are plenty of large shops still doing stellar work.

But so are small agencies. And they're often doing so at lower prices. More importantly, small shops have demonstrated they can move the needle and be more nimble and responsive. Consider Rockfish Interactive, the winner of our first Small Agency Awards contest. Big sophisticated digital programs for multinational marketers don't have to be done by digital goliaths; platforms can be built and managed by a 50-odd person shop in Arkansas -- provided that shop has made the investment in talent and technology.

On top of this, many small shops often have the advantage of being generalists who take broad approaches to problems.

Small isn't inherently better -- there are plenty of bad small agencies out there. But more and more it's a valid option, even for the biggest marketer.

And for the biggest hotshot agency employees as well.

So as you contemplate the state of the industry this week, keep in mind that it doesn't hurt to think small.

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