You hear about them all the time; small agencies that are picking up business and going from strength to strength. Agencies with names like Fox P2, Quirk, Black River, Machine, more often than not founded and captained by award-winning ex-creative directors of the old big five agencies. And in at least two recent cases, winning global awards for innovative ideas. (Kudos, Fran and Adam)
I think the reason many of these small agencies function better than their larger counterparts is due to greater levels of flexibility, autonomy, passion and innovative thinking. They have the ability to circumvent - or even dispense with - the red tape, the complicated systems and the innumerable protocols larger organisations find themselves bogged down by. Not to mention the plethora of additional extras that come with a big agency - such as having to answer to their head office on everything from profit margins to billing procedures, staff count to leave pay, or having to send creative work overseas to be vetted by an ivory-towered worldwide creative director who doesn't really understand the South African landscape.
All of which comes with a slow turnaround time and a hefty fee.
On a more prosaic note, smaller agencies have more to prove, they're hungrier, more passionate and given the current economic climate, more likely to work harder and longer for their clients. They're also more likely to bring pro-active and innovative ideas to the table that can make a real business impact so that their clients see the true value of their agency in rands and cents.
Small agencies aren't jaded. To them, every client is new and exciting; every project a fresh challenge; every job bag a welcome sight.
Think about it, there are hundreds, no -thousands, of creative people who go to work every day at big agencies in South Africa. They win awards, they get paid, they go home. Then, every now and then, there is one who has the guts, self-belief and passion to create something new. Which, after all, is what advertising is all about. And by the way, what you think a small agency can't offer you is now a commodity anyway.
Big agencies need to pay for the people they employ, including their production people, and are therefore more likely to present ideas that they can produce themsleves. Sure, small agencies bill hours, but they are billing a larger percentage of "thinking hours" as opposed to "execution hours." A small agency that outsources production is idea-neutral. They are therefore more likely to present something really different or unique that will solve the marketing problem because they know they can find a company somewhere who can execute the idea.
And chances are that company will be a small company!
At the end of the day, if your advertising agency has five hundred employees, that doesn't mean five hundred people are working on your business. Maybe twenty people in some form or other. Well, that's the same for a small agency. Small agencies can easily put together the same kind of team for your account. And, better yet, the founders will actually work on your business. Trust me, if you're a sizeable account, the entire agency will be working night and day to keep you happy.
And that's the kind of commitment small agencies give, and the kind of commitment I believe clients are looking for.