Should I choose a small agency or a big agency?
Long debated within the creative industry, there have always been many questions raised by clients around the ‘size’ of agency partners. Should I work with the smaller or larger agency? Will it affect the quality of the work delivered to me? Will I get the same level of service? How do I know who’s more ‘creative’? Does it really matter?
As an ‘insider’ myself and having had the opportunity to experience life on both sides of the agency size divide, I will try to highlight some of the most discussed pros and cons of each.
Starting off with the most obvious factor, and undoubtedly one of the most important for brands, when deciding on which agency to choose.
To no one’s surprise, larger agencies often have higher rate cards for their services. Most of the times it can be attributed to their tremendous experience and success – as a rule of thumb, the more renowned and desirable you are, the more people are willing to pay, and therefore the more you are able to charge. However, high costs can also be reflective of the fact that larger agencies have more overheads to account for (i.e. higher headcount, a bigger/more centrally-located office). In some cases, big network agencies are able to be more competitive as they can be buoyed by the network when needed so it’s not always black and white.
Larger agencies often cost more simply for allocating a larger team to the project. While it’s true, two heads are better than one, it isn’t always necessarily the case for all projects – and this is where the smaller, nimbler agencies can offer more attractive budget proposals. They don’t have so many layers of hierarchy within project teams.
Transparent Brand – Agency relationship
Small agencies, whether already very well-established or new to the scene, will probably value each client or project, regardless of size, much more than a larger, multi-national agency, which will almost certainly always have ‘bigger fish to fry’ i.e. massive corporations/prestigious brands. There is a whole lot more at stake here, and small agencies have so much more to prove; they will always want to show off their best work, regardless of how exciting or routine the client brief is, tackling every new project with unlimited passion and enthusiasm.
Also, it’s worth remembering that small clients of small agencies will benefit from the whole talent and expertise of the team, in the exact same way that a much bigger account would experience. In smaller agencies, it is likely the same people working together on both accounts – the same strategic thinkers, creative minds and proactive client managers.
Working with large agencies, clients would probably never really get to know the designers working behind-the-scenes, who are responsible for creating their identities and bringing their brands to life. The client-agency dynamic between brands and smaller agencies varies from business-to-business. However it is not uncommon for designers and strategists to have a direct relationship with the client, moving away from the traditionally exclusive account manager-client relationship more common in large agencies where resources are more strictly timetabled. This contributes greatly to a more honest and transparent long-term partnership, as well as more people within the agency that know your business intimately.
On the other end of the spectrum, a larger agency will also probably have a larger ‘client entertainment budget’, which means more fancy lunch dates, and more frequent little surprises! With the higher price tag, you can often expect the agency to spend more on dinner dates than a smaller agency would be able to afford.
Internal skillset & experience
The bigger the company, the higher the need for extended teams and added departments. They will have dedicated production, motion and copywriting departments. Smaller agencies don’t have the luxury of hiring a new individual for every job that needs doing in a busy, thriving agency. This means that the internal teams need to be proactive, fast-paced and adaptable, constantly learning new skills (very often directly from each other) and finding new and exciting ways to think outside the box! They will have a network of trusted specialists they can call on when needed. There is a shared sense of responsibility, distributed equally from the most junior employee, all the way through to the agency directors, fostering a collective and rewarding team environment.
Often based in a much tighter space, and sat within closer proximity, internal teams communicate more easily in smaller agencies VS their larger competitors. If you’ve ever visited a large or global agency, it probably wasn’t long before each scattered team was pointed out to you – ‘the client team sits here… the creatives are over there… new business upstairs… oh and the graphic designers are over in that corner!’
Smaller, closer teams are forced to learn how to work together quickly, and for clients this equals efficiency, which often equals lower costs! With less ‘internal formal processes’ and bureaucracy involved, information is passed between teams more quickly, and therefore projects tend to run more smoothly. In an ever-increasing faced-paced digital world, time is of the essence; more than ever before, people are expecting the same great results, at an even faster rate, irrespective of the industries in which they operate.
Also worth noting is that many small agency leaders and employees are actually ex-large agency employees – a small agency setup does not by any means imply that brands are making a compromise on the quality of their creative work. In some cases, it actually allows brands (especially newer/smaller ones) access to incredibly talented people, which otherwise would have been way ‘out-of-budget’ for them in a large agency.
Great things come in small packages
As with all things in life, there are benefits and risks to making any decision. Our advice would be not to discount an agency based on their size alone, whether big or small. Size is no indication on how well these agencies are going to work for your business. The most important thing to consider when making your choice, is what they can offer you, and who you think will work hardest for your brand.
Here at Nalla, we believe that small, nimble agencies have so much to offer clients, both in terms of the personal, dedicated service and creativity and fresh ideas. With that said, I really want to emphasise that there is no right or wrong answer here, as the ‘one size fits all’ agency simply does not exist. Each brand will have its individual needs, varying budgets and timescales, contrasting ways of working, as well as very different goals that they are looking to achieve. The trick is to find the right agency for you.