A Big Problem With the 'Small' Word

How Do You Deal With Misconceptions About Agency Size?

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Jennifer Modarelli
Jennifer Modarelli
Our agency has a little problem I thought I'd share with you all in the spirit of small-agency growth. The problem is inherent in the name of this forum: Small Agency Diary.* Please note that the word "small" as a category of agency has no formal definition. But the word has been in use since the 12th century, and according to Merriam-Webster "small" is defined as follows:
1 a : having comparatively little size or slight dimensions b : LOWERCASE
2 a : minor in influence, power, or rank b : operating on a limited scale
3 a: lacking in strength
4 a: little or close to zero in an objectively measurable aspect (as quantity) b : made up of few or little units
5 a : of little consequence: TRIVIAL b : HUMBLE, MODEST
6 a: limited in degree
7 a: MEAN, PETTY b : reduced to a humiliating position
I'll stop there; I think you get the picture. I don't know about you all, but none of these definitions accurately reflect who we are.

To quote the immortal Wayne Campbell of "Wayne's World": "Was it Kierkegaard or Dick Van Patten who said, 'To label me is to negate me'?" (It was Kierkegaard).

So to restate our problem: We're bigger than you think, and we don't think of ourselves as small. How many of you fit this description? The size of our customers, the skills of our employees and the complexities of our solutions are disproportional to our headcount or revenue. Like many of you, I'd warrant our cost structure can represent substantial savings for large companies without any compromise to the quality of their online initiatives. But the label is troubling; being "small" has definitely cost us opportunities.

I submit that we all fight a daily battle against misconception.

For my agency, the solution has been to focus on establishing greater thought leadership around the things we do well, aggressively supported by PR, marketing, and social media tactics. We're also working on building our industry analyst relationships and shoring up co-sponsorships with our key partners. In effect, we're combating the perception of smallness by drawing attention to the largeness of our thinking.

In general, this approach is working, but it isn't immune to size misconceptions either. Our investment in marketing contains a catch-22: We know we have to spend on marketing to increase our market presence, but our lack of market presence diminishes the efficiency of our marketing spend.

I suggest we work together to cast off the small-agency label. Let's define ourselves by our strengths rather than by our size. After all, I imagine many of you are like us: much bigger than you'd expect.

*Editor's note: No, we're not changing the name of this forum. We happen to think small is great.

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