Big name branding agencies are experts in a certain kind of seduction. It can start the minute you walk in the door, award plaque after award plaque in the entrance screaming global success at you.
A reception desk that looks like it was teleported from the flight deck of the USS Enterprise. A choice of coffee blends that would make a barista blush. And a company name that’s not double but quadruple barrelled.
How could you fail to be impressed? This agency is surely cast-iron guaranteed to help you win big in the business of branding.
In truth, there’s no guarantee a big name branding agency will deliver the great work your business needs. That’s because what really counts along with the quality of the work is the quality of relationship you have with your agency.
That’s why it can really pay to opt for a boutique agency to develop your brand. Choose a small but perfectly formed branding agency and chances are you’ll get a more personal service, higher quality creative work and a unique, memorable brand.
Even science agrees that small trumps big. A study of millions of scientific papers has found that large teams make good progress but smaller teams come up with more creative ideas. The research, published in Nature, examined the degrees of disruption between large and small organisations.
The study found that disruptive papers were far more likely to have fewer authors and be much less likely to build on existing ideas. Large teams were likely to create high quality work but they did it by developing the ideas of others. As a team grew from one member to 50, their average ‘disruption’ score fell by 70 percent.
“These results suggest the need for government, industry and non-profit funders of science and technology to investigate the critical role that small teams appear to have in expanding the frontiers of knowledge,” the researchers said.
With your big famous branding agency, it can feel like you’re just another name on the client list, another job on the conveyor belt. You might find your projects are shuffled around various agency teams, with consistency and continuity falling victim to their own HR needs and internal processes.
With a smaller agency, you always have one point of contact – no account manager and your project not passed off to a junior designer. Don’t get me wrong, account managers can do a great job in organising your project so it runs smoothly but with an extra person in the line of communication, your feedback can get lost in translation before it reaches the designer. To alleviate this, smaller agencies favour working closely with the designer in a much more collaborative way.
A project undertaken with a boutique branding agency is likely to be more flexible – you’re less likely to be beholden to their own rigid delivery timeframes. Smaller branding agencies are better able to adapt to the way you work. They are less likely to have multiple layers of sign-off that can complicate and slow a project down.
Jeff Rosenblum, founding partner of digital brand-building agency Questus and co-director of the documentary ‘The Naked Brand’, says that for larger agencies flexibility is antithetical.
“It conflicts with their ability to generate profits because they are burdened with a legacy business model. Large agencies have typically been in business for decades. They are good at creating a certain set of deliverables - typically, TV spots and standard banner ads. But the ad industry has been disrupted by technology. Great agencies need to help clients shift from interruptive messages to immersive experiences. An agency that is saddled with legacy skills, legacy expenses and a holding company that enforces a minimum net margin every quarter can have a difficult time generating and executing groundbreaking ideas. What's good for the client's brand may not be good for the agency's bottom line.”
Because of their size, boutique agencies can be selective about who they work with, unencumbered by a ‘big reputation.’ They are able to work more closely with clients, building relationships that are honest and open, not shying away from challenging each other – essential when it comes to making important decisions about branding.
A boutique agency is able to hand-pick the best team suitable for your project. So if they need two or 10 people, they’re selected because they are among the best in their specialism – not simply because it suits the agency’s work roster. And you won’t be paying for disciplines your project doesn’t need, each project team is tailored to your specific needs.
The teams assembled at a boutique agency have been delivering a high standard of creative work for a long time and they all know how to work independently and collectively, delivering what has been agreed – on time and on budget.
It could be said boutique agencies care about their clients more. After all, their main clients represent a bigger percentage of their overall revenue than that of a larger agency that handles many brands.
One of the other pitfalls of working with a large agency are the hidden costs. That means you’re not only paying for the service you receive, you’re also helping pay for that Renzo Piano-designed London office building stuffed with the finest contemporary Italian office furniture and Turner-prize winning art everywhere. Am I exaggerating? Maybe a little. But it does pay to be aware of what you are paying for. You could be investing your money more wisely by using the same budget to produce higher quality content or more of it with a smaller branding agency with lower overheads.
A small, streamlined operation that doesn’t spend excessively on staff can pass the savings on to the client, which is measured in much lower fees. Boutique advertising budgets are often lower because they’re not chasing volume. Some of these agencies don’t have a physical office. Their small, agile operational size allows them to make cost savings that larger firms just can’t match.
Jeff Rosenblum again: “Marketing executives need to make the tough decision of determining their top priority. If they want to create a breakthrough brand, put a premium on creativity, are willing to take risks and understand that advertising is ready for a revolution – then small agencies simply crush big agencies. It's not even close.”