Carefully Crafted on July 22

Big vs Boutique: Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better

We’re number 2. And, that’s totally fine with me.

Last week, my PR agency came in second place on the Columbus CEO Leaderboard (a ranking of all the local PR agencies). Not too shabby for a company that started in my dining room and isn’t even six years old yet.

As a super competitive person, it’s uncommon for me to ever be okay with being number 2. But, in this case, I totally am.

Here’s why: I have zero desire to grow my company into a large agency. The partnerships we build with our clients and the way we approach our work isn’t scalable like that. And, that’s okay. I’d rather see us produce amazing work and deliver meaningful results than sacrifice quality for size.

The timing is interesting, given recent Reuters and AdAge articles that note big brands are reconsidering contracts with their mega-agencies, as well as a study that found a significant spike in brands bringing marketing activities in-house.

What is driving this trend? Mark Schaeffer hypothesized five reasons, one of which being agencies that have become to big. As he explained:

“An executive from one of the world’s largest ad agencies told me last year that his company was too big to compete in the lightning-fast digital space. ‘We have too many people, too many contracts and too many approvals to be able to react and work effectively in a real-time world,’ he said. ‘The work is moving closer to where the customers are.’”

My company is squarely planted in the boutique PR agency space. Our team of 15 (and growing!) serves a wide range of B2B and B2C companies, from emerging brands and high-growth startups … to innovative Fortune 50s. Because we got our start working with startups and small businesses, we’ve adopted the entrepreneurial mindset of going all-in on something you believe in and hustling to earn customers’ trust and loyalty. We get the importance of quick thinking, responsiveness and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. While we honed those skills working with fast-paced startups, all our clients – regardless of size – appreciate that we’re nimble, fast and results-driven.

The “big brands” that we work with could have had their pick of agencies. They’re well-known companies that PR agencies – big or small – would love to have on their client roster. But, they chose to work with us instead. From what we’ve been told, it’s because the big shops are so big that they can’t deliver the same high-level partnership that we create with all our clients. They don’t move fast enough or think creatively enough to deliver the results clients crave.

As one of the commenters in Mark’s post noted, brands should be leery of “Wal-Mart agencies” – the supposed one-stop shops. As someone who personally prefers shopping at a boutiques over big-box retailers, I totally agree. While you can’t expect as many different product types as big-box stores, the quality at speciality boutiques is superior. This idea of knowing what you do really well and sticking to it is undervalued, particularly in the agency space. Too many agencies try to be everything to everyone, and struggle as a result.

And that’s why I’m content to let the big agencies fight amongst each other to see who can bring in the most new biz, win the most awards and hire the most people. I’d rather have less business, fewer awards and fewer employees. Quality over quantity, every single time.  Our House Rules shape how we work with clients and partners. It means we’ll never be the biggest, but for once, I’m thrilled to be number 2.

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