Independent Agencies Can Bite Back
My favourite quote of last year was from Nils Leonard, co-founder of Uncommon. He raged at the attitude of clients - because they [the agency] were small and new - regarding them as a wild card option in a big pitch. His answer was that they are a credible answer to the problem. End of. That’s all that matters. He is absolutely right. Size is now the most irrelevant elephant in the room. If you are good enough, you are a credible answer.
Independent agencies tend to be small, extremely good and very fast and efficient. Do you want that, or do you want slow, average and inefficient? In 2019, as the dust settles on many struggling network stories, the small brightly talented and highly motivated agencies are now THE most credible answer. If I was a client I'd think of a large agency as a 'wildcard'. You never know how they might surprise you.
Sir Nigel Bogle has always described big as a collection of small. Small being extremely good and very fast and efficient. It is partly this obsession that has allowed BBH to grow into a huge business and still be great. But whether it is a collection of smalls in a large business or just a small business in its own right, that is where the quality and value is.
You can’t help but wonder if the industry momentum in the last ten years has been hoodwinked into overvaluing size and scale with the promise of discounts and mass integration. That era seems to be closing as a failure.
Almost every client I've ever spoken with really buys a few key people in any organisation, probably two if you are lucky, and that is the real value. Everything else can rapidly become a frustrating overhead that they are forced to pay for in order to have 10% of the two people they really value.
Those days are dying. Clients want to buy the value makers at a greater % and cut out all the baton passing layer upon layer of management and process. That is exactly what small to medium sized agencies can give.
The agency I run, Brothers & Sisters, is changing shape, removing layers and middle management and getting value makers only in front of clients the whole time. A* creativity with no inefficiency. And it works.
The entire history of advertising has been stimulated by small groups of talented people deciding to back their talent and start something themselves. And importantly are able to win large important business with the quality of their thinking and creative. It is the value. And it’s more likely again now than in any time in the last ten years.
2019 could be the year that the Davids start to properly eat the Goliaths.
Matt Charlton is CEO of Brothers & Sisters