Exactly what is small?

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Small agencies come in many sizes because being “small” is a state of mind. The reason small agencies are so important to our industry is because they represent its creative seed. People who start small agencies seem to love what is wonderful in our business and want to keep it alive. Some small agencies that strive this way have grown considerably and yet keep their small-agency cultures. Crispin Porter + Bogusky is the prime example. I first met Alex Bogusky and Chuck Porter when they were a 35-person agency working on regional accounts. As far as I can tell they haven’t changed their core beliefs though they’ve become the industry’s leading agency.

People who own ad agencies for any length of time know to survive, you must grow. Attrition, an economy that turns south and world events like 9/11 wreak havoc on agencies. The ones who aren’t growing don’t hang around very long. I know small agency owners who actually try not to grow. They equate growth with losing the purity of smallness. It doesn’t have to be that way. There is nothing wrong with a small agency that attains some size. What is wrong is if it loses its soul in the process.

What is it that made you start a small agency? Why do many of you who could work on premiere national accounts choose to work at small agencies that only have small, regional accounts? Simplicity seems to be primary motivators. Ari Merkin’s new agency “Toy” is an example. In a recent interview in Creativity Magazine Merkin and his partner, Ann Bologna, talked about their desire to enjoy their jobs without layers and politics. People with the tremendous talent Merkin displays would seem immune from such obstacles, even in large agencies. It takes a lot of guts to walk away from the prestige and power that they offer. Many who have done so built the agencies that created some of the greatest advertising in our industry’s history. I admire small agencies whose success causes them to grow into large agencies. But I am in awe of those who keep their small-agency soul in the process.
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