Why a small agency is better than a large agency

It’s amazing what comes out of client meetings!

Recently, a client commented to our MD, “You know Dean, over the years we have used some of the biggest agencies around, but I can’t honestly say that their output has been any better than we get from smaller outfits such as yours. They have some very bright people on large salaries, which is reflected in the fees, but I doubt the results are worth it. And we certainly don’t get the service or care that we would like.

“They send in their big hitters to win the account and promise us the earth. It’s all very uplifting, but once they have the business, they leave us with a lightweight team and the service falls a long way short of the expectation. Unless you have a lot of money to spend with them, you simply fall down the pecking order when they prioritise talent and resources!”

This got us thinking about why companies employ large marketing agencies and, more importantly to an outfit such as ours, whether smaller agencies can offer as much, if not more.

Previous client engagements have suggested that many larger agencies have well-resourced business development and pitch teams. They are slick, professional and use the latest management and marketing jargon to present their arguments and win new business.

In addition, their client lists and portfolios often read like a Who’s Who of top companies; big spending corporations with the resources to fund massive, eye-catching campaigns.

It’s all very impressive and, understandably, companies are often seduced by the presentations and the promise of what is to come.

The reality, as our client’s comments suggest, can fail to live up to expectations for a number of reasons (see our article ‘Does the pitch paint a true picture’), but what are the potential pitfalls of large advertising agencies and what are the benefits of using a smaller agency?

Money talks

Large agencies thrive on large accounts. They need big-spending enterprises to feed their hungry machines.

More often than not, it is the clients who spend the most who have the most pull within the agency. They command the best, most senior personnel to handle their accounts and draw on the agency’s best resources. When they want something doing, understandably, it gets done, even if this is to the detriment of other, smaller, less lucrative accounts.

Clients with smaller budgets will not receive the same attention and can be side-lined in terms of continuity and level of service, and quality of work.

This is not to say that smaller agencies might not prioritise accounts according to spending power, sometimes choices have to be made. The difference is that the resources are less thinly spread. Generally, this will mean that clients are treated more equally, have similar, if not the same, levels of service and commitment, and have access to the same resources, assuring consistent quality of work.

It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond!

Consistent ethos

Smaller agencies are less corporate and, in most cases, the founder is very much involved in every aspect of the agency’s operations.

The founder’s drive, determination and philosophy will be instilled throughout the agency and agency personnel will share this ethos. Regardless of who the first point of contact is, who is designing the next ad or writing the PR copy, the client is assured of consistency in the approach that is taken to their work.

Service continuity

Large agencies are notorious for relatively high staff turnover rates. If a company is not one of the agency’s larger spending accounts, the likelihood is that they will experience changes in the team that works on their account, whether due to career advancement, agency reorganisation, rationalisation or a number of other reasons.

The client will have little control over such changes and they can have a profound effect on all aspects of the services they receive: A change of account executive will affect direct working relationships, but could also create a lag in service as the new person gets up to speed with the client’s needs. Changes in creative, copywriting and PR personnel can have similarly unwelcome consequences.

Smaller agencies, especially those in which clients have direct contact with key executives, are less susceptible to such changes. Should a change occur, the agency will also be able to pick things up more quickly thanks to the tightness of the team and the ease with which knowledge is shared between agency personnel. It is highly likely that several members of the agency team will be aware of a client’s particular needs and will be able to ensure that the quality and commitment to service do not falter.

Efficient communication

As with any organisation, the larger an agency gets, the longer the lines of communication become and the more likely it is that messages suffer from Chinese whispers.

Whether this results in a client’s requirements becoming blurred between the account executive, artistic director, studio manager and graphic designer, or slow decision making due to lack of access to senior personnel, the results can be very frustrating for the client.

Smaller agencies have shorter lines of communication, will generally be less bureaucratic and most will assure direct access to senior executives. In the smallest, the founder will often be the main point of contact, making the processes more efficient and effective.

Results not profit

Let’s not be coy about this, every agency needs to make a profit, but it is how this profit is derived that sets small agencies apart from their larger contemporaries in the results they can deliver for clients.

Large agencies generally bill for the hours worked on a project by the various departments that input to it. With everything in-house, this means that the large agency will be more likely to recommend strategies that contribute towards its profits.

Smaller agencies often need to out-source some aspects of their work and are, therefore, less likely to recommend strategies on the basis of profit and more likely to recommend solutions to the marketing objectives.


With a sizable monster to feed and many clients to service, a large agency can be forgiven for not having the time or inclination to devote itself to every aspect of every client’s requirements. Assignments, clients and personnel are changing all the time. The larger agency simply shrugs them off and moves on to the next, ideally more profitable, account.

Furthermore, larger agencies will tend to handle a client’s marketing needs as a series of assignments or challenges, each of which will be given a solution. This is fine in some circumstances, but it fails to consider the larger picture or provide a more comprehensive, continuous approach to marketing communications.

Smaller agencies cannot afford such luxuries and besides, the reasons for being in business are often more esoteric than mere profit. Thanks to the fact that the small agency will be more directly driven by its founder and/or senior executives, the satisfaction derived from providing an efficient, effective service for all clients will be a key motivator in the care, devotion and attention that is invested in every account.

Joined up thinking

Smaller agencies will often have less specialists and more multi-disciplinary personnel, and even the specialists will be exposed to a wide range of tactics that can be employed to achieve a client’s marketing objectives.

This results in a more flexible, holistic approach to a client’s marketing requirements, one which considers all types of marketing communications to deliver results. It also contributes towards more productive, collaborative discussions during client-agency meetings as agency representatives are able to draw on broad knowledge and suggest solutions immediately, rather than waiting for the agency’s design, social media or internet marketing guru to come up with an idea.


Using a small agency assures you of a personal, dedicated and committed approach to your marking needs. They know as much, if not more, as large agencies and possess the flexibility and versatility to adapt to the ever-changing marketing environment.

Decision-making processes are quicker and promotional tactics can be employed more efficiently thanks to shorter lines of communication and, in general, the direct role that the founder and senior executives play in the operation of the agency and handling of accounts. They can act quickly and effectively to client requirements.

Next time you are appointing an agency, just think, “Size does matter, bigger is not necessarily better and the best things come in small packages!”

Want a smaller agency that cares about your business and understands your needs? Give us a call. You’ll find that our straight-talking approach makes a refreshing change from many of our contemporaries!