With more than a decade of advertising agency experience, I have first-hand knowledge of the pros and cons associated with large full-service firms. Although there are some benefits to working for and with a big agency, they typically come with a hefty price tag, a lot of junior team members and excessive process. Part of what prompted me to leave the agency world and strike out on my own to start Adler Public Relations was a desire to do things differently and pass those benefits along to my clients.
Little did I know how much the market was craving best-in-class partners for each service, rather than being tethered to a large one-stop-shop, until I made the leap. But it makes complete sense because hiring a solopreneur or a boutique PR firm generally results in better quality work at a more affordable price. Here are the top reasons why:
Once a person is at a point in their career to start their own company or decides they want to give it a go as a solo practitioner, they typically have years of experience under their belt honing their craft or expertise. They are specialists not only in their line of work, in this case public relations, but also usually have deep niche knowledge in servicing specific industries. This level of expertise is invaluable to clients who are looking to hire an expert.
Conversely, large full-service agencies commonly start out specializing in one service line and add departments as additional client needs arise and they see opportunities for new revenue streams. Oftentimes, the owner or CEO has little to no expertise in the add-on services and hires specialists to run each new department. However, it is nearly impossible as a big agency owner to hire the best of the best in every department, especially if they themselves don’t know what to look for and are constrained by the agency’s operating budget. So, oftentimes, you end up getting a large firm that is great at their original core competency, but sub-par in other offerings.
In order to remain profitable, most day-to-day large agency account work gets assigned to junior employees, with senior team members being reserved for strategy, planning and new business pitches. This lack of senior oversight can cause the quality of work to suffer or take longer than necessary to be completed which can be costly to clients, especially those who are being billed hourly.
When you partner with a solopreneur or a boutique PR firm, the owner is generally the one doing all or most of the day-to-day work on your account, as well as directing the strategy. You would be hard-pressed to find a large agency where that would be the case.
Solo practitioners and boutique firm owners typically work from home, coffee shops or communal work spaces. They also usually have small teams or a trusted network of contractors that they pull in, as needed. As a result, their overhead is low which translates to being able to offer more affordable services. Large advertising agencies are notorious for having big impressive offices and plush employee perks. If you think all those team happy hours, fully-stocked kitchens, company retreats and fancy holiday parties pay for themselves, think again.
In order to run a large advertising agency effectively, it’s imperative to have processes in place that allow all departments to collaborate and keep everyone aligned. This not only comes with the hard cost of expensive project management software, but causes countless hours to be sucked up in status meetings, updating spreadsheets, tracking billable time and internal communication that has nothing to do with actually executing the client work. Since those administrative tasks aren’t necessary in a small firm, all of your account hours are dedicated to doing the work, which means that more time is spent getting valuable results for your business.
One of my biggest frustrations of working for a full-service agency was the in-fighting over client budgets. Oftentimes, the client has a set line-item for their marketing budget that the agency must work within. Department directors would each propose their recommended scope of work and corresponding number of account hours. And inevitably, those recommendations would get majorly scaled back to accommodate more of other agency services that were either more profitable or deemed more important. I can’t tell you the number of times I had to sacrifice valuable PR initiatives for clients because there weren’t enough agency hours to accomplish them.
Solo practitioners and small firms are able to focus on doing great work and brainstorming creative ideas for their clients without having to worry about competing with other departments’ priorities or the constraint of overall agency hours.
Having a more personal relationship with your marketing partner is another benefit to engaging a smaller firm. This is especially true if you are a small fish in a big agency pond. Naturally, the largest clients receive the most attention at a big agency. Rather than a team of people who dip in and out of your business with no primary point of contact, you get a dedicated resource who is deeply engrained in your brand and personally invested in the success of your company.
Working with a large full-service agency typically comes with a cumbersome legal agreement and an ironclad cancellation clause. The goal is to make clients as “sticky” as possible by selling them multiple services for which they depend on the agency, thus making it harder for them to leave. Now more than ever, it’s imperative to have a flexible marketing partner who understands the hardships your business is facing in this uncertain economy and who is willing and able to pause services or pivot on a dime, if necessary.
The list goes on, but these are some of the main reasons why hiring a boutique PR firm usually gets you more bang for your buck. As always, make sure to do your research when selecting a marketing partner of any size, whether it be large or small but mighty.