This year, the total amount of U.S. ad expenditure will reach or exceed $240 billion, an 8% increase compared with 2018. But the industry is fragmented. Digital channels are increasingly dominating marketing spend and agencies must shift their focus in response to the need for marketing expertise across all channels.
The one-size fits all agency model is a thing of the past. Small, boutique agencies can now compete in an increasingly cluttered advertising environment as clients move away from the “agency of record” model toward more project-based work.
In this post, we’ll review some of the unique benefits of working with a boutique marketing agency and highlight what you can expect when you hire an independent agency partner.
Personalized, expert attention in a small package
Large agencies are (often, but not always) well-equipped to service large accounts, but may not be able to deliver nuanced, personalized attention to smaller clients or specialized projects.
Boutique agencies are in a unique position to provide individualized, expert service to all clients, no matter their size.
The agency handoff that can happen when a large agency wins a small account, generally means that after the pitch, a small-to-medium-sized client will quickly be relegated to junior level planners and account executives. This breeds inefficiency and can be disastrous if you’re in a data-sensitive industry such as healthcare, finance, or the public sector.
Smaller, experienced staff in a small agency environment means that top talent touches all accounts. So, you’re not just talking to the CMO or CEO during the onboarding and sales process, you benefit from their expertise throughout the entire length of your engagement with them.
Flexibility and responsiveness
Lack of responsiveness is one of the biggest complaints that small to mid-sized businesses have about working with agencies. In a traditional agency model, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to move the elements of a given campaign through standard channels in a timely fashion.
Approval is needed. Things get bottlenecked. High turnover or low prioritization of a given client (or both) means that no one takes ownership of project workflow in a consistent way. This can make an entire project come to a screeching halt.
Small agencies know this. They develop close relationships with client touchpoints and get everyone involved in managing the account holistically.
This very human component of project management is one of the key ways smaller agencies differentiate themselves from their larger counterparts—they are flexible and, because of this, move work through the pipeline quickly and effectively.
Individualized attention and focused expertise
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the individualized attention that a smaller agency brings to each client. Boutique agencies have fewer clients than large agencies. This gives them the luxury of focusing on each account more thoroughly.
This same benefit enables agency staff to build skills in specific industry verticals and geographic markets. If you want to run a campaign in DC, then a small DC agency will likely do a better job of targeting and messaging than a global agency with billions of dollars in billings.
This is particularly true for hyper-local campaigns. If you want to reach Dutchess County, NY’s population of 296,000 people, then let’s talk!
The elephant in the room—cost
Big agencies have big overheads. WPP Group which is more of a holding company than an agency, employs over 100,000 people globally. The cost of office space, employee benefits, salaries and perks like industry tools and technology, are passed on to the client in the form of high monthly retainers or hourly rates.
The sales and onboarding process also tend to be very expensive for large agencies. That’s why working with them usually requires that companies commit to a minimum time period of six months or more.
Boutique agencies can take on smaller clients for shorter time periods. The hourly rate may be comparable to larger agencies, but the hours involved in creating assets like websites, commercials, videos, and media campaigns don’t add up as quickly or as robustly.
Small agencies are used to running a tight ship and we’re focused on efficiency. We establish client expectations and stick with them.
The final word—transparency
Clients that work with large agencies may not know where all their money is going, particularly if the agency is paid using the archaic model of percent of media spend.
Historically, this model worked very well for large media buys in the millions (or billions) of dollars. Agencies would mark this up the standard 15% (possibly less for larger buys) and that money would fund the cost of development, media planning, and deployment.
But this model incentivizes agencies to spend as much money on media as possible, regardless of client goals or benefits, since the agency makes more money by spending more money.
The percent-of-spend payment model has shifted (somewhat) with the rising adoption of digital media which is supremely measurable. Even so, agency pricing transparency tends to be a unicorn, with total disclosure of what’s being billed out and why, remaining a mystery for many clients.
That is, of course, unless you’re working with a boutique agency.
Not only can you get the full range of services from a small agency (and then some) as you would at a large agency, but these services will most likely be itemized and reported on so that you know you’re getting your money’s worth.
The personal connection that a small agency has with its clients fosters transparency across every touchpoint of the client/agency relationship. This is, perhaps, the biggest differentiating factor you can expect when working with a boutique agency.
We are staffed by a small group of dedicated people who want to be partners, not vendors, with our clients. We aim to become an extension of your internal marketing department and, as such, we’re invested in your success as much as you are. This is how working with a boutique agency can really make a difference.