Way back in 2012 — which may only be six years ago on the calendar, but is light years away in terms of how much the world has changed — the owner of a small agency wrote a piece for Ad Age entitled “SMALL AGENCIES CRUSH BIG ONES: IT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE.”

The writer made many significant points that still ring true today, including:

  • The success of small agencies depends on the ability to leverage flexibility and develop fresh ideas.
  • Small agencies tend to be younger and less beholden to old ways of doing business.
  • Small agencies consider culture a key priority.

Agree 1000%… With a Caveat

I wholeheartedly agree with all of the points outlined above. However, while I do think small agencies offer many benefits that large agencies do not — that doesn’t mean that every small agency can work with any brand. In particular, not all small agencies can work with big brands.

There used to be an underlying rule, if you will — or better still, a belief — that the bigger the brand, the bigger the agency that brand needed to work with. The thought being, smaller agencies simply cannot handle the workload associated with bigger brands.

That was the mentality, cut and dry.

Well, those days are over… long over.

Many small agencies, my own included, successfully work with large brands all the time. The keys to a small agency being able to work with a big brand are the following:

Skills: Yes, it’s a cliché, but at a small agency, the staff needs to wear multiple hats and possess a multitude of skills. The types of specific skills needed depend on the agency itself and the type of clients they wish to work with. However, there are certain traits that should be inherent in any small agency:

  • Passion
  • Teamwork & cooperation
  • Ego checked at the door
  • Supportive
  • Communication

Collaboration: You don’t have 100 people in your agency. Therefore, true collaboration is incredibly important to its success when dealing with big brands and big challenges. Collaboration shouldn’t just be internalized; the agency and big brand need to be true partners in a collaborative effort to be successful.

Curiosity: They say, “curiosity killed the cat” — but it never killed creativity. One of the most important aspects of any agency is its insatiable curiosity. Curiosity makes people ask questions, makes us look deeper and push for more understanding, makes us challenge the status quo. The higher the level of curiosity, the greater the creative output.

Method: Absolutely mission-critical for any small agency to work a large brand is to have a methodology in place that fosters curiosity, innovation and creativity. These tactics must be omnipresent. There has to be a free-flowing of ideas that push envelopes and break stereotypes/old-school thinking.

Agility: Being a small agency automatically implies being agile, but more importantly, small agencies can enable big brands to be more agile themselves by identifying where they can and should pivot within their own industries. Far too often, big brands are so caught up in their own internal issues that they lose sight of available opportunities. It’s the small agency’s job to find those opportunities and help their clients maximize them to the fullest.

Creativity: Another overused word, creativity can manifest itself in many ways. Naturally, your small agency needs to be creative in the traditional sense. However, in order to be valuable to a big brand, a small agency needs to apply its creativity in new and unexpected ways. Just being “creative” isn’t enough; creativity is the perfect combination of strategy, skill, agility and innovation that, when deployed, taps into a consumer emotion and creates a lasting connection.

The bottom line is that, in order for a small agency to work with a big brand, it requires a team that is highly motivated, dedicated and passionate about their work.

And as for the big brands themselves… they will love the fact that you’re able to do ALL of this while remaining cost-effective compared to the larger agencies.

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