Here's Roget's New Millennium Thesaurus on synonyms for small: small-time, minor, bush-league, dinky, inconsequential, inconsiderable, insignificant, low, petty, piddling, secondary, second string, trivial, two-bit, unimportant. And it gets worse from there.
To be sure, size hasn't kept us from attracting more than our share of Fortune 500 companies and others impatient to join them. From our small office in a Gold-Rush-era whiskey warehouse by San Francisco's Pyramid, Amazon works across 10 time zones and all media. "Small but sophisticated" is what one big client called us, for our ability to quickly get to the core of a brand and to navigate complex corporate structures and processes.
It's new business where the s-word can loom large. How to convey that we're big enough, that our strength is doing the strategic and creative work that's critically important to major brands.
So how many people does this really take? In our big-agency past, my business partner and I were always part of a core group that roved from account to account, from pitch to pitch. It was about the same size as the core group at Amazon.
Core group strength is my thesis. You do need a certain critical mass of top-notch professionals in the key disciplines who are bonded together. The shared track record, philosophy and culture allow you to act swiftly and confidently, no matter how big the marketing challenge.
Regardless of size, an agency needs a few smart strategic thinkers. A creative visionary or two. A handful of top-notch writers and art directors who quickly grasp the vision and language of disparate brands. A seasoned, polished core account team. Skilled senior production and tech people. An honest and unflappable lead financial person. Many of ours have been together at Amazon for five to 10 years. From this core, you can quickly staff up for a new account, or simply make "permalancers" more permanent.
A dear friend and one-time art director partner recently commented admiringly on Amazon's successes: "You're an ad biggie now."
"Actually," I said, "I think it's more like an ad smallie."
Diary of an Ad Smallie? Plenty Big Agency Diary? Big Enough Agency Diary? Let me know what you'd call it. Happy April Fool's Day.
(*Editor's response: The short answer is yes, we must.)