Adnalysis: Clients & the case for smaller agencies
by Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) Today, being part of a large agency holding network doesn’t offer what it used to and, for clients, it’s becoming more and more expensive to be so aligned.
Not that long ago, global alignment came with stature and credibility, and meant that the agency could deliver with peace of mind and possible access to global thinking. The flip side, however, meant that the local agency had a financial responsibility to a global HQ that might be based in New York or London — a need to showcase a healthy book balance.
This is precisely part of the reason the agency model is broken, because the focus then is on trying to save as much money as possible while extracting as much as possible from human resources. Look at the current wave of agency consolidations by the global networks. Big agencies that have their own heritage, credibility, credentials are being merged to forge new entities. These are decisions that aren’t coming from a position of strength — it feels reactionary.
What do clients need?
- People who can bring big thinking: you don’t need a huge office or a global network to think big
- Ideas that can travel globally: great ideas aren’t exclusive to experience or big walls — anybody may produce an idea that can spread and have influence
- Ideas that can connect and resonate with millions of people, one idea at a time
How do clients get that?
- Clients need to get out of the system of having only the agency of record doing all the work
- Clients, brands, marketers and decision-makers need to start opening up to collaborating with people outside of the agency partner circle and networks
How do ad agencies become big? By winning big clients. All the ad agencies that are big now were once small and became large by virtue of being given a chance. Somebody gave them a shot because they showed big thinking.
- False: Small agencies don’t have capacity to service clients — only big agencies can and do
- False: Small agencies aren’t able or will not be able to deliver — big agencies can deliver anything and everything
- Big agencies only staff and hire more people once they win big accounts. That’s how they become big. They aren’t big because they’re inherently so; they capacitate themselves once they’re certain of a consistent and substantial income. That’s why, when a big account leaves an agency, inevitably retrenchments follow. Therefore, are big agencies really big if they collapse upon one big client leaving?
- All departments are understaffed and overworked = stretched capacity = inefficiencies
- They prioritise or deprioritise based on client billings = the bigger the retainer, the more attention that client is likely to get. The smaller the retainer, the less attention and quality (experience) of resources are likely to be given. Clients that have small budgets are generally given to junior teams.
- Most agencies are driven by the need to produce award-winning work most of the time and, if the brief doesn’t offer the opportunity to do so, then chances are that clients won’t necessarily have experienced people working on their brands and won’t get the attention they deserve. Being a small client means you either get junior people working on your account or you get less time, possibly resulting in compromised thinking and quality.
Clients need people from outside the big agency network to help them grow their brands/businesses
Most people are always talking about how smaller agencies, especially agencies that are black-owned, hardly get opportunities to showcase their abilities. While this is true, what tends to happen is that this conversation only lives at a political level, where it becomes being about BBE (which many believe neither works nor serves black people).
Perhaps, then, what we need to do is shift the conversation from purely being political to being about unlocking and gaining access to creativity.
Why should clients partner with smaller agencies?
To unlock and gain access to creativity.
Smaller ad agencies or creative shops may not have the heritage, the credentials or the financial muscle like big agencies but that has no bearing on the ability to think and produce. Capacity, as mentioned above, is only dependent and determined by the type of clients or account an agency has. The bigger the client, the bigger the chance and opportunity to be bigger.
The advantage smaller agencies have over big ones is that, while the former need money or income, they aren’t necessarily driven by the bottom line — they’re more driven by the insatiable need to produce and be creative. Big agencies don’t actually have the time to work on client business. No brief, no work. Agencies sell time; ironically, there isn’t enough time inside them. Agencies only work with official briefs but the reality brand-building is that every day is an opportunity to craft and refine strategy and creative thinking.
What clients don’t know is that, while big agencies are waiting for briefs, smaller agencies spend more time thinking about their problems, challenges and how those can be overcome creatively. Because smaller shops don’t have big retainer clients, they spend their time looking for clients and, in the process of looking for clients, they spend a lot of time identifying solutions for those they can approach with big thinking and bold ideas.
Apart from BEE and doing the right thing, clients which expose themselves to other ways and forms of thinking and executing have an opportunity to gain access to untapped creativity. Yes, clients, especially local ones, have a responsibility to ensure that local suppliers are given an opportunity to work on their brands — and reduce the amount of money that leaves the country. Apart from that, when clients don’t tap into the local talent, they lose out on creative opportunities, the opportunities of being exposed to thinking that is unbound by systems, convention and politics.
I encourage clients to give small agencies a chance to mull over their brands, free from being bogged down by history and ways of working.
What do clients really need? They need to do what is right for their brands, and they need to think long-term and not necessarily in terms of long-term contracts. A brand is everything it does, and not which agency it is with.
A former committee member of AMASA, an Advisory Council member of Vega School, a guest speaker and lecturer at Vega, Rosebank College, Red & Yellow and Boston Media House, Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) is currently a brand consultant and the founder of Thinkerneur, a brand consultancy firm, and the co-founder of African Strategy Kollective (ASK), a freelance strategy outfit seeking to add value and craft to strategy departments inside ad agencies. His podcast is called The Cut-Thru, All Things Strategy & Brand Building. He contributes the monthly column, “Adnalysis”, which analyses adland from a strategist’s point of view, to MarkLives.com.
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