Large Marketing Agency Versus Boutique

Large Marketing Agency Versus Boutique

I had a conversation with a business owner this week who made mention of working with a large marketing agency. To paraphrase his comical takeaway, he said, “after taking an entire month, a conference room of 20 people were proud to say they finally decided on a font!”

Let’s unpack this.

To begin, I would like to say that there are certain scenarios that justify the economy of scale benefits that often come with a large agency. So, rather than taking jabs at the big guys—as I operate a boutique agency myself—I’m going to focus on the advantage of working with a smaller outfit.

You’ll be able to easily connect the dots and determine what’s best for your company. 

To start, let’s discuss access to the top talent. 

Access to the Top Talent

In bigger agencies, it’s likely you’re far from their largest or most important client. As such, you will be assigned a series of contacts who will be your proxy to the talent behind your campaigns. While that may work out just fine, you will have to ask yourself if that’s a workflow that you’re comfortable with. 

By contrast, boutique agencies—who may also assign project managers—usually have fewer layers between you and the talent, allowing you to more efficiently communicate your vision and direction.

For many small business owners, this closer interaction is usually preferred. 

In some small agencies, the executives or the owners of the company are the talent behind your campaign. With this vested interest in your success, you will often find a stronger passion for your project and a more personalized experience as these folks have the strongest understanding of your value to their firm. 

Overhead. It trickles down.

You run a business, so you understand the costs of overhead. Whether it’s office space, utilities, or the elaborate espresso machine, there are expenses that need to be satisfied each month. There’s no secret, the higher the expense sum, the more for the clients to subsidize. 

We all have these expenses. They eat at our bottom line and require constant cash flow. 

Looking at two businesses, one large and one small. And assuming both are run well and efficiently, of course, the larger of the two likely has more expense to carry. 

Now, I don’t want to make the blanket assumption that the larger agency has more bloat and, therefore, it will cost you more. Instead, I want to highlight the fact that within a larger agency, your project will only receive the focus of a select few. There are few, if any, projects that truly require the brainpower of an entire large agency. That would be poor business practice for the agency and, frankly, overkill for your needs. 

As I stated at the beginning, I’m trying to avoid taking jabs at larger organizations. The truth is, they probably grew to their size because they were getting more right than they got wrong. 

And, this conversation isn’t about what’s better and what’s worse but, rather, what’s best for you. 

If your project requires only a fraction of their personnel, make sure you’re not covering more than your fair share of their overhead. 

And, to be fair, when you’re working with a boutique agency, ask the necessary questions to assess how lean and mean their business is run. Just because they’re small, doesn’t mean they are run efficiently. 

Cutting Through the Red Tape

Speaking of lean and mean, a key advantage of a smaller agency is its ability to be nimble. When a campaign needs to pivot, the boutiques can usually execute quickly. There are simply fewer layers between the decision-makers and the boots on the ground. When you’re trying to get your marketing up and running quickly, you’ll find this to be quite an advantage. 

This also helps when it comes to cutting-edge technologies and techniques. Many agencies will use a lot of the same marketing tactics they’re proposing for you themselves. Which is terrific as they’re demonstrating a willingness to put their money where their mouth is. 

While this logic prevails among the smallest and the largest agencies, the boutiques typically have an intimate understanding of these tactics throughout the organization. This allows you to receive some great ideas from most of the people you will interact with and not just when you meet with a topic expert. 

If you’re a hands-on business owner, one who will personally interface with the marketing agency, you will appreciate this perk. Of course, if you have an in-house marketing team to work with the agency, you will also appreciate the knowledge share potential for your staff. 

Talent Turnover

Now, this last point I would like to share with you is admittedly anecdotal. Meaning, I did not research any data behind this but, rather, am speaking from personal experience.

And, this last point, is talent turnover.

In the nearly 25-years I have been in this space, I have noticed many of my large agency friends and acquaintances switch companies rather often. Many of the large vendors I have worked with have also experienced frequent turnover.

This sometimes leaves you starting a project with one group of people and finishing with another. Which, of course, can bring a series of pain points, personality incompatibilities, and overall inefficiency for your project.

While career path changes are inevitable, I have witnessed far fewer among the smaller creative houses.

In my opinion, when you find a good fit somewhere and what you do has a positive impact on an organization, you typically stay put. It’s often easier to make your imprint on a business when you can become a big fish in a small pond than a guppy floundering in the ocean. Floundering…pun intended.

All kidding aside, again, it’s simply been my personal experience that those I know in the smaller agencies had longer tenures there.

So, for you, as a business owner, this allows you to develop a true partnership with these talents over time rather than being just another [potentially anonymous] customer.

In summary, agencies large and small each bring a series of pros and cons. Which is preferred will be dictated by what’s best for your business. So, ask yourself if you truly need the scale of a large organization or would you benefit from the more intimate attention you’ll receive from a boutique agency.

To learn more about marketing your small business, check out our What you need to know to market your small business article.

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