How Small Is the Small in Small Agency?

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Joining the Small Agency Diary is Peter Madden, founder and president of AgileCat, Philadelphia. (Check out his bio on the bio page.)

I couldn't think of a better way to kick off inaugural small-agency blog post than with the question. You know what question. I know I do. Comes out and hits me right in the gut. Right in the middle of a stellar (well, sometimes) presentation.

How small is AgileCat?

And, man the ways I could respond. By the way -- how do you respond?

How about this?

Peter Madden Peter Madden
How small, you ask? You should be asking me "How big!" Did you see the first scene in "Gladiator?" Maximus on horseback, riding through the masses of troops? It's that big! Crazy-big! We have a conference table big enough for the entire board of GE to fit around. People pass each other in cavernous art-adorned hallways high-fiving each other over another successful campaign (speaking of movies) – and don't have to eat at their desks. And we promise, you won't get lost among our other 247 other clients. You're No. 1 in our hearts. What's your name again and what is it you do? Or this?

How small? Microscopic. It's just me and my alter-ego Jack Steele. And I put a couple of mirrors up around my "office" so when I look around, it's like we're a real team. That all dress alike (though I don't like the looks of that one guy). And I'm here to help you bring it to the masses through ads that will shake fillings loose (cue the kazoo playing "Reveille"). Just ignore me while I take the trash out, hammer out a killer concept, clean up a design, and . . . scared yet, Ms. Prospect? Can I get you a pillow for the waiting-room milk crates?

Let's face it, neither are true scenarios. And as my small agency enters its 8th year (golf applause!) and evolves into something between micro and macro, "the small question" still rears its ugly head. All the time. Like clockwork. Except the hands on the clock are slapping you in the face. Really hard.

Sure, I've read that "Small is the new Big." But is it the new black? When the focus is on the size of your agency, what is the prospective client really asking? I think it's about comfort and security. Comfort being that fine line where they want responsiveness. They don't want to get lost in the shuffle. They want to be in a club of successful businesses (as a result of our incredible work, of course) -- not the only business in your stable.

So how would you respond? Or maybe I should ask -- what word goes in the place of small? Please don't tell me "boutique." Used it once in a meeting and immediately pictured the creative team under '50s style hairdryers, with curlers. Not pretty.

More importantly, I think we can all say that whatever the number of people at an agency, the big-ness of the creative is what it's about, right? Some of our best ideas have resulted from me and my Creative Director being the last 2 people left at the end of the day. I once had a great idea for a tagline while surfing (alone, not that tandem crap that Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello faked in Beach Blanket Bingo). Ideas that work.

Hell, since I'm a musician, let me put it to you this way: Would three-man bands like The Police have been more creative if they added a horn section and gospel choir? Don't think so.

Keep in mind that the Small Business Administration (SBA) lists "small businesses" as being 500 people or less.

So how small are you?
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