Posted on 2nd June 2017

Big Agencies Vs. Small Agencies – Which is Better?

In years gone by, brands of all sizes would consider working with a big name London agency to be the pinnacle of marketing achievement.

However more recently, big brands are starting to partner with small agencies – what’s that all about?

Larger agencies are certainly not on their way out, but if you want a highly creative, multi-channel campaign, you now have a choice to make: which is right for you – a big agency or a small agency?

Let’s investigate the pros and cons of each, and discover – is bigger always better?

Price

This is a big one that gets mentioned every time the “big vs. small” debate comes around, so let’s just get it out of the way. Larger agencies are exactly that – large. That means big teams, spacious premises, support staff and therefore lots of overheads; which of course gets reflected in the price. This reason alone forces many to take a balanced view by considering smaller agencies before jumping in at the deep end, cheque book in hand (wait – do they make those anymore?).

Smaller agencies however have fewer staff, lower overheads and more modest premises, hence fewer reasons to charge a huge price tag.

Reach & Scale

Typically, the larger agencies are the ones you call if you want a national, multi-channel advertising campaign or even an international campaign in multiple languages. However, small agencies are just as able to provide campaigns of all sizes to companies big and small, often at a far reduced price to these large, major city-based firms.

The reach and scale of a small agency’s campaigns can vary wildly, but many smaller agencies are headed up by experienced agency folks who have worked for medium and large advertising firms, and know how to handle campaigns of all sizes. Regardless of the client, small agencies can scale campaigns up or down as needed.

Using ourselves as an example (if you’ll excuse us tooting our own horn), we have worked with massive brand names like NIVEA, Neopost, Brita and RedBull. A smaller agency can still develop an amazing multi-channel marketing campaign; just because the spread required for these household names is large, that doesn’t mean you need a large company to execute it.

Smaller companies however will be glad to know that we are here for you too! A House of Commons report states that in 2016, there were 5.3 million micro-businesses in the UK, accounting for a massive 96% of all British businesses. These small organisations don’t necessarily need big campaigns – just a strong brand, and marketing that’s targeted and affordable. It wouldn’t make financial sense for Joe Bloggs down the road to go running off to a top end, expensive London agency every time he wanted a social media campaign!

Big or small, online or offline, small agencies can handle whatever kind of campaign you want to throw at us!

Structure

Large agencies have built up effective processes over years of being in business. They have had the time to hone their ways of working and really whittle down to what works and what doesn’t. Their creative teams may have worked on all kinds of contracts and won all sorts of awards.

However, as a company grows and more levels of bureaucracy become a necessity, this can result in the client and the creatives that work on their project never actually speaking to each other. When you are dealing with different departments and messages being passed along, ideas can sometimes get mixed up and reinterpreted.

By working with a smaller agency you’re more likely to have a one-to-one relationship with the designers, writers and strategists actually working on your campaign, rather than just an account handler. Because you are speaking directly with the creatives themselves, you can explain intricate concepts more accurately – with no second, third or fourth hand interpretations of what you want.

Agility

Though of course this may not be true of all large firms, some can be a little set in their ways in terms of how they go about their projects and the methods they prefer. Because they are older, they may be more attached to older ways.

Smaller agencies are typically younger and more exible, allowing them to adapt to new and different ideas; as well as having to stay on the cutting edge of new methods in order to remain competitive. One could argue that when navigating the twists and turns of modern marketing, a nimble dirtbike is better than a lumbering tank.

Stability

The notion that a larger company is a more stable bet than a smaller company is a popular one, but one that we feel isn’t entirely correct……we’ve been around for 18 years, so we feel we know what we’re talking about.

We understand the argument – there is potential that a smaller agency may simply fold overnight, whereas a larger organisation is likely to have more staying power. However, small business owners have more at stake than large agency employees, and as such are likely to keep a close eye on their bottom line and bend over backwards to make sure their clients are totally satisfied.

Because of the fragility of their reputation, client satisfaction can be a sink or swim situation for smaller firms; as opposed to massive ad agencies who will likely have people consistently beating a path to their door.

Creativity (The Important One)

Not all larger agencies are the same, and we realise this may not be true of all companies, but an over-reliance on hierarchy and politics can stifle the creative process. Once you have a larger team, you have to keep an eye on performance, and start employing managers rather than creatives. The power can shift from creativity to bureaucracy quite quickly.

Personally, we feel that the smaller agency is a hive of creativity. Because highly talented creatives are working together on things, they start to fill gaps in each other’s knowledge; for example, a strategist can learn from
a copywriter, a copywriter can learn from a designer, a designer can learn from a social media expert, etc; they become a melting pot of skills and ideas. The focus remains on creativity rather than management and introspective analysis.

Smaller agencies are also typically more likely to bring talented freelancers in for parts of a project. Using a variety of freelancers to bolster the agency’s own skills helps to pair the best person to the job at hand rather than being stuck with a single given team member’s ideas and experience.

Big Vs. Small – The Verdict?

Now, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t use a larger agency if your needs and budget allow it – but just because you need a large scale campaign, doesn’t mean you necessarily need a large scale agency.

Our advice? Weigh up what factors are most important to you. Do you want a direct relationship with the creative folk working on your campaign? Do you want an established agency to lead a massive, national campaign, or would you (and your wallet) be happier with a more modest, targeted approach? Large organisations can be great, but we feel small ones have a number of potential advantages too.

…OK, we admit it, we’re biased!

If you are in need of branding expertise, direct ad campaigns, or all things digital marketing, Plum Ideas have got you covered. We’ll take you through the entire creative process from concept to fruition, and can also help you analyse and evaluate a campaign’s success.

We are a small, Midlands-based agency and have worked with household names like NIVEA, Neopost, Kettle Chips, Axminster Carpets and Lego Education, as well as numerous smaller companies. Many of our clients have been with us from Day 1- they say they like our blend of big agency expertise and small agency pricing – and who can blame them?

Why not get in touch with us and have a chat about what we can do for you? We’re a friendly bunch! You can call us on 01902 824446 or email us at ideas@plumideas.co.uk.