"We're a big agency, but the team working on your business is a tight-knit crew."
Coming from a large agency (the first quote) and a small agency (the second), these lines are mostly lies, and if you're a brand, you've undoubtedly heard at least one of them before. Very small agencies have an inferiority complex, and large agencies want to convince brands they can make things happen just as fast as the small guys.
Some clients perceive that an agency of under 10 employees isn't big enough to handle their business. Sensing this, a lot of very small agency owners embellish the number of employees on their roster. It's not uncommon for five-person agencies to become 10-person shops, and 10-person shops to become 15-person teams. There's comfort in numbers. Up until a certain point anyway, because even the big guys are uneasy with size, attempting to demonstrate that they can be just as nimble as the small firms.
Why can't we all just be honest? There's an odd misconception about agency size, on both sides of the fence. Agencies believe that clients want a firm of a certain size, and clients aren't really sure what they want. Or perhaps they project that they're looking for someone bigger, smaller or of a particular size, without even realizing it. This usually starts with the question, "How many people are at your firm?" with some sort of implied direction on what they're looking for. In the end, clients want stability. Brands want to do business with an agency that 's going to be in business six months from now, and that isn't going to buckle when they shovel on the workload. Fair request.
Perhaps clients need to ask better questions. "How long have you been in business?" or "Have you handled many projects of this size or larger before?" or "At what point do we start taxing your bandwidth?" These are all more relevant questions than "How many people are at your firm?" and get at the crux of what needs to be discerned before committing to a creative team.
Is there a perfect size? You might be tempted to say that small agencies with 25 to 50 employees hit the sweet spot, falling in the middle of the "small agencies" and having enough people power to suit the client comfortable with size, and small enough to get attention from senior talent. This seems to be the only size agency that doesn't lie about its number of employees. As a creative director in a firm this size, I might tend to agree -- but in reality, the perfect size depends mostly on needs. What are the account service requirements? What kind of production is going to be involved? What's the expected campaign timeline?
Plenty of clients are perfectly suited for a five-person agency. And some clients are comfortable only with a 500-person agency. Brands need to honestly assess what they need, ask pointed questions and choose an agency appropriately, even if its size might be much larger or smaller than they'd like to admit.
Agencies can help the process by understanding the true benefits of their size, even if it's not where they want to be, or see themselves long-term. A five-person agency can do things that a 20-person agency can't. And a 500-person team can take on things that smaller agencies could never service.
So rejoice. Chances are, you're the exact right size for the perfect client . . . if we can all just be honest with each other.