One day, not long ago, I was having coffee with a friend. He is an account manager of sorts and deals with a lot of larger companies, many of whom are serviced by big ad agencies, design and marketing firms. He had worked at pretty much every level of the marketing, advertising and production business and had accumulated a wide variety of skills and insight.
We talked about a lot of things, as we usually do, and at a certain point the conversation got around to the differences between large agencies and small agencies in today’s business world. His observations had pretty much convinced him that the future of marketing, with the exception of companines in the top 10% in terms of size, reach and value as a client, was trending towards smaller ’boutique’ style firms.
Having all come from the big agency business ourselves once upon a time, I was really quite interested in what he had to say. And how, of course, that would affect things here at Ink Tank.
Life in the Twenty-First Century – Marketing Wise
His opinion is that large agencies and creative firms will continue to exist and the best ones will thrive, however with the global business landscape becoming increasingly more entrepreneurial, the prospects for those large agencies with hefty fees, heavy skews toward strategic development, slow turnaround times and large markups for outsourced services will, or in fact, have already narrowed considerably. Conversely, the opportunities for small, affordable, nimble and highly experienced smaller firms will broaden significantly.
The simple reason for this, according to my friend, is all about value. An entrepreneurial client values his or her relationships to a much greater extent than a big corporation does. They like the accountability and transparency that relationships with smaller firms engender. And they know that smaller firms, especially those who have been around for awhile, tend to be made up of individuals with a) much higher levels of experience, b) the ability to strategize, conceptualize and execute in a much more fluid fasion, c) a proven outsource supplier base with the same kind of DNA as they have, and d) the willingness to embrace client opinions much more openly, as opposed to the ‘us v. them’ mentality that still exists in many large creative and marketing firms.
The conversation with my friend resonated with what I’ve felt was true for quite some time. The world is a much different place than it was even a decade ago. The Internet has created a mixed bag of new media, some of which have yet to be fully proven and not all of which are right for all businesses. It has also created a number of new challenges for clients and business planners alike, all revolving around basic strategic and creative issues.
Many large agencies, studios and marketing firms today are filled to the brim with people who have grown up with a distinct bias towards digital media – a natural tendency as digital has been the bulk of their life and business experience. And like all biases, they tend to see only their own value and ignore or de-value other ways of doing things. Sadly, these big firm creative and marketing people are disadvantaged to a great extent because they have had very little in the way of mentoring: the people who could have mentored them, by and large, didn’t stay around to do that. They went off with their knowledge and experience and grew along with the digital age.
Old School and New School
This is pretty much our story here at Ink Tank. We all held senior positions in the advertising and design business. But instead of hanging around and passing ourselves off as gurus of one kind or another, we decided to keep working – our way – and adding new skills and experience. Because that was where the joy for us is derived.
Having worked in the communications business both pre and post-digital age has equipped us with a level of insight into both how these things have changed and how they’ve stayed the same. And at the end of the day, the strategic insight and experience, the creative development process and the need for high calibre execution remain constant.
What’s changed are really only the tools. And of course, our own levels of knowledge, experience and expertise, which are constantly deepening and expanding.