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06 Jan

The Year When Small Really is Beautiful

The Year When Small Really is Beautiful

Within a day of returning to work, I am tired of hearing what a tough year 2011 is going to be - yes, we all know business isn't easy but dreading the future really isn't really going to make it any better!

So, although my crystal ball's no clearer than anyone else's for the general economy, I'll stick my neck out and am looking forward to the coming year because I truly believe that this will be the year when the benefits of using marketing agency expertise become apparent to clients. In addition and, perhaps just as importantly, 2011 will be the year in which clients choose smaller agencies for their speed, flexibility and service compared to the larger  agencies which are looking increasingly vulnerable in tough economic times.

Having worked for a large agency before setting up Silver Bullet some 12 years ago, I know how some clients are attracted to larger agencies for no other reason than they are large and how frustrating this can be for the smaller agencies, so here's some reasons why I think Small Is not only Beautiful, but better!

1. Smaller agencies have a higher percentage of senior people who actively work on client business. In larger agencies, it is often the case that the majority of work is handled by younger, less experienced account handlers - you get the A Team doing the pitch, but who actually does the work?

2. Specialised knowledge tends to go hand in hand with smaller agencies. Larger agencies may claim to have the experience, and often do, but frequently use people who do not have the in-depth specialism acquired from many years working in a sector. In our own case, I spent 15 years offshore drilling so can reasonably claim expertise...

3. Better media contacts. We depend on our invaluable press contacts and look after them whilst ensuring they receive a steady supply of relevant stories - larger agencies often tend to use the 'shotgun' approach of sending out release after release to all and sundry without checking that the journalists and editors are even interested. We also have access to exactly the same electronic data bases for trade media, but don't charge as much for this!

4. Staff turnover. Turnover in large agencies is rapid - even at board director level changes are common - the minute profits dip, redundancies are made.  For junior account handlers, the quickest way to get promoted is to change agency. Small agencies tend to hold on to their staff for longer.  Having spent so much time training them, we try to keep them, often by running a happy ship.

5. Local knowledge. Smaller agencies are very good at local knowledge and industries. With digital communications, it is easy to contact national media without being London-based, and without having to pay London rates?

6. "Your business is important to us." Ask a prospect whether they know what their business is worth to their agency. The fact is that a smaller agency may cherish a smaller client that a larger agency values less. The smaller agency may work harder to get results.

7.  Listening. One of the complaints sometimes made about big agencies is that account handlers who do not understand the business are arrogant. Smaller agencies are better listeners and more responsive.

8.  More bang for your buck. Smaller agencies tend to charge lower rates and also run more economically. As they are often owned by the directors, costs are watched. Office overheads can be significantly less and clients are not expected to contribute to expensive in-house facilities. Additional expertise is often bought in when needed rather than included in the fee.

9. Transparent billings. Big agency invoices can be hard to decipher. All those client lunches, shared running costs and taxis have to be paid for and it can be hard to see where the client's money is going. Smaller agencies do tend to keep the billing process simpler and more transparent.

10. The client knows the team who is working on its business. Big agencies can pull out all the guns when they are pitching and prospects often meet some of the industry's heaviest hitters. However, in their heart of hearts, clients admit that they know, even at the pitch, that they will probably never see certain board directors again - except perhaps at the Christmas party. Smaller agencies tend to introduce a client to the team that will actually be working on its business. As a smaller agency, we build the kind of relationship with a client that depends on understanding and gets results.

John Dias, Managing Director

Silver Bullet Marketing Ltd

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