Or How to Never Underestimate the Power of a Proper Fit.
As the CEO of a 2 year old small ad agency in Hollywood, I NEVER wear khakis ….. but I did back when I was in college and trying hard to be something I wasn’t. That got me thinking about the importance of the client/agency fit and how critical it is to the overall success of the agency and its clients.
You see, a 22-year old, khaki and button-down wearing college kid I did everything I could to contort myself into a persona that just didn’t fit — pretzel-twisting my way into a first marriage that turned into a divorce. What was I thinking? Thing is, I could as easily be describing a classic mistake the vast majority of small agencies make when trying to win large clients: pretending to be something they’re not.
The Puffer Fish Syndrome
You are probably familiar with the type. I’m speaking of that three person outfit with twenty different staff profiles on their website. That little agency with countless impressive logos on their homepage insinuating that they have serviced many more clients than they actually have.
So what’s the harm? How is a small agency supposed to win a large account?
A small agency is a particular kind of beast. There are clients it is hardwired to take on. This does NOT mean the clients need to be small. They just have to be the right fit. Because if you bite off more than you can chew, you may end up losing millions if not your whole shop in the process.
My company has 15 full-time employees, and I can tell you big oil is not likely our aim nor is a client who wants to relax in their agency’s opulent 10,000 sq. foot space. In fact, we had just four guys with us when we won our first major brand account. Here are some lessons about “fit” that we learned along the way:
Small Projects / Big Rewards
The key to getting the big game for a small agency is to work incrementally. Battery didn’t land its biggest clients through large pitches, but by taking on smaller projects. It’s not a method to winning every game, but we know what to pick. We did eventually win global creative responsibilities for a major brand, but we did it by starting off small: acting as a consultancy charged with building the brand’s strategic platform, its single-minded proposition and a go-to market plan. The strength of that work is what led to creative and production responsibilities for the TV campaign, digital and OOH. Had we not started off small with strategy, we wouldn’t have won the multi-million dollar production budget.
Get the smaller project, show the clients what you can do and from there good things tend to happen.
A word of caution. All too often brands seek out small agencies because they see them as cheap vendors. Taking on work like this is like squeezing back into those old khakis: you’re contorting yourself to please someone who is never gonna like what you do. They’ve come for the wrong reason, and when that happens, run the other way!
Big Pitches Cost Big Money
Another reason why faking it can be far from making it is the money. Tuck your shirt too tight into the wrong pants and all too soon you’re throwing money into mega pitches for which you are ill-suited; and you’re very likely on a crash course with financial catastrophe. While this may be radical to some, I say small agencies shouldn’t pitch at all. They should offer to do much smaller “let’s prove ourselves” consultancy projects like those I mentioned earlier. Even if the profit margin is razor thin, show the client the great work you can do and the bigger projects tend to follow. It’s a win-win since it gives the client a usable asset; interaction with an agency beyond a three-meeting pitch, and allows the agency to truly prove their worth
So, I’m done with khakis. My second marriage is a strong one precisely because there is no BS. I am who I am and I work with what I’ve got. We’re a small agency that has just started to win some very big clients precisely because we know who we are and are really good at learning to work with what we’ve got.
I’m the CEO & Founder of Battery, a creative shop in Hollywood with a passion for fearless creative and intelligent implementation. Our clients include NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. We can be found online at www.batteryagency.com