By Ben Zimmerman, President at Media Design Group.
Size does matter sometimes. And in the advertising world, smaller may be better these days. As the world prepares for a post-Covid-19 economy, independent agencies may have the upper hand when compared to their heavy-hitting counterparts. While well-funded corporate conglomerates may be able to subsist on cash runway for the foreseeable future, leaner agencies — read: the little guys — have been adapting since their inception.
Put simply, we’re used to change. It’s baked into our company culture. As the world around us is forced to acclimate to a new business landscape, we’ve been independently evolving and growing this whole time. Let’s review a few differences between the indies and the bigwigs.
While there are numerous organizational structures, most large agencies follow a hierarchy of sorts. For example, art directors and copywriters may report to creative directors, and account executives and account planners may report to the head of client services. However, because of the subsequent silos almost inevitably caused by this chain of command, it may take days — or even weeks — for a deliverable to make its way up the food chain and into a client’s hand.
It’s untrue that indie agencies lack structure. In fact, many of the same positions and configurations exist. But many times, I’ve seen indie shops break down silos and have their media, digital strategy and creative teams work on the same projects. In doing so, these teams not only deliver client campaigns at a faster clip; they encourage collaboration across multiple disciplines and specialties. And many times, this diversity results in high-quality work.
Indie agencies are also able to take accountability for every action they take — both good and bad. To be honest, we kind of have to. Because as small shops, who else is there to pass the blame to? While it’s always easy to soak up our successes, it’s equally important to own up to our mistakes. Many times, however, I find this transparency to work in our favor. Clients value honesty. And when an indie agency’s president or other C-level executive is a primary point of contact, our clients feel like they’re being addressed directly, rather than being given the runaround.
Because of this, I find that relationships with our clients — and team members — are infinitely stronger. Sure, large agencies have the benefit of working with huge brands across multiple services for extended periods of time (especially as an agency of record). Admittedly, there are advantages of working exclusively with one (or several) clients at one time. However, I find that indie agencies have the added benefit of breaking down all communication barriers. While we may juggle numerous clients at once, I know many of my clients on a first-name basis and genuinely care about their families and the vacations they go on.
I’m a bit biased, but I also think that small shops attract some of the best talent in the game. Sure, you’ll find whip-smart agency folks at some of the world’s largest companies. And many of these people deserve every ounce of credit they’ve worked to receive. However, I think it takes a special someone to take the plunge into the indie world. Sure, they have the creativity and talent required to get the job done. But there’s a certain element of tenacity and bravery that’s required here. We’re a hungry group that’s constantly challenging the status quo.
As a result, indie agencies are nimble and lean. We’re often not as well funded as the big guys, so we’re forced to adapt. Because of this, many of us possess an entrepreneurial spirit. Many of us even have a background in the startup world. We speak the same language as our clients because we’ve been in the same boat. Rather than spend decades climbing the corporate ladder, we’ve put ourselves on the line. And we’ve forced ourselves to find what works.
Ultimately, one of the biggest benefits of indie agencies is that we know how business is run. Corporate conglomerates may be exclusively focused on getting the spot just right. But so are the small agencies. However, because we’ve been in our client’s shoes, we also keep a close watch over things like ROI and other investments. That’s why we’re laser-focused on our clients’ bottom line. And we care about the impact our work has on their overall business.