If you want great work reduce the budget.

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Small agencies have to become very good at working with microscopically small budgets, small timelines and small staffs. There is small room for error so you have to be good. There’s not a lot of pad in the budget because there’s barely a budget. Small agencies embrace this daily challenge. My employees will scream if they here me utter the idiom, "When you get lemons, make lemonade" one more time. Fortunately, lemons are the perfect ingredients for great work.

Small budgets mean you must have a huge idea. You can’t rely on technique. That’s what big budgets do when the agency is playing it safe. Let's say you're doing a TV spot. The big budget instantly gets you into the “name game” of what director you must work with. Pytka never comes into play when you have a budget under 40 grand. Sometimes any director doesn’t even come into play.

I have a friend at a large agency that works as a senior account manager for a $100+ million dollar account. Some time back she was telling me how excited she was about shooting a $2 million dollar commercial because of the "A" production company they were using. I asked about the concept and she answered, “Oh, you wouldn’t like it. There’s not a big idea, it’s relying on the technique to get attention.” I can understand an account person feeling this way, but sadly, some creative people get equally excited about work that has nothing going for it but a budget.

A couple of friends of mine are a creative team at a mega agency. Last year they sold a national spot to their mega-client. They immediately got to go on a multi-million dollar cross-country shoot. They shot beautiful footage, cut it to a legendary rock song and enjoyed heavy network media schedule. These guys were happy with the results, but admitted to me that it wasn’t a great idea. But it sure was pretty. Is it really fulfilling to work on big budgets if you have to give up the big idea?

The promise land is where you get both a great budget and a great idea. We creatives worship those who have taken advantage of that situation. But those precious few don't compare to the others who did something amazing with very little. Those are the ones we should truly admire and emulate.

Let's say you're a client with a big budget. Do something radical. Find a great little creative agency. Take a little money for creative development and give a project to them with, say, half the budget you normally spend on production. See what they come up with. Compare that to what you get from your big agency. Some clients have done this and changed agencies.

Let's say you're a young creative. Lemons are a great opportunity for you to build a book, win some awards and get an offer from a big agency to work on big budget blah. Small timelines mean you don’t have clients over thinking things. Small staffs mean you get your shot immediately. You are going to get the ball and you’re going to get it a lot.

Whoever you are take on a small budget and see what you can do with it. I promise it will only make your larger budgets more fruitful.
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