Why (agency) size matters.
by John Lindner
Founder and Chief Creative Officer
What are the most important factors in developing a successful partnership with an advertising agency or marketing firm? Yes, you should look for someone who has the skills and experience to get the job done. But within a pool of talented and experienced marketers, I have found the single most important factor to be agency size.
Large firms tend to be overly focused on growth to cover their huge overhead. When I was creative director at a 150 person firm, I headed a pitch team that would travel across the country presenting campaigns to prospective clients. Thoughtful, inventive campaigns, when sold, would be handed off to the “B team” to execute, inevitably losing their luster, along with passion and creativity. The original pitch team, meanwhile, had moved on to the next hot prospect.
A large firm may be adept at producing slick creative, but unless you are a mammoth client, I have found that it is hard to maintain mindshare. This explains why the average tenure of most clients at large advertising agencies is less than half of what it was two decades ago.
You would think the obvious solution would be to go small, but that too has its perils. With a too-small firm or freelance creative, large marketing initiatives can easily swamp resources. Further, an illness or unexpected absence can grind marketing projects to a halt. While you might have great mindshare with a one-person firm, bandwidth limitations may make them a poor choice. You’re also more likely to face creative and strategic limitations with a freelancer, since their pool of experience and insight is limited to themselves.
What is an ideal size?
I always recommend clients search for a medium sized agency, with the ideal size depending on the client’s need and the agency’s structure. The firm should be large enough to handle core functions like strategy, creative development and account management in-house. But they should be small enough that the same team who creates the work sees it though day-to-day. It should be large enough to bring senior-level talent to the table, but small enough that you can have direct access to that talent, instead of having to go through a gatekeeper.
How to tell.
Wondering if an agency is a good size for your business? Here are some questions you can ask:
- How will my account compare to your top five clients?
- Who will work on my account day-to-day?
- Will I have direct access to senior level talent?
Choosing a marketing partner can be challenging. While there’s no magic formula, examining an agency’s size can give you key insight.