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7 Reasons CMOs Should Hire A Creative Boutique Instead Of A Large Ad Agency

Steve Olenski

One of the biggest decisions CMOs and other leaders must make is choosing an agency to market their company. Many attributes factor into this choice, including the convenience of the agency’s location, its specialties, and its past work with other brands.

Another factor is sthe ize. Is the agency large, small, or a tiny boutique?

Standard advertising dogma says big companies need to hire big agencies. I don’t think this stands up to logic.

If your company hires an agency with 1,000 employees, how many do you think will be assigned to your account? Probably just as many as you’d get at a boutique firm with a fraction of the workforce.

Also, consider the fact that large firms are usually driven by the volume of clients, ensuring your account team will be pulled in many directions other than yours. Boutique firms, however, are driven by retention — they’re focused on you.

Quite simply, the accepted standard is wrong. Here are seven benefits boutique firms offer that make them a better choice for CMOs of large and small enterprises alike.

1. Access to specialized tools

When you trade a firm focused on volume for one focused on the individual, you often find that not only is the firm’s commitment deeper, but its skills are, too.

For instance, boutique search engine marketing firm Gauss & Neumann spent nine years developing its proprietary tool MASK. Using MASK allows the firm to build highly structured, highly organized SEM accounts that incorporate more than a million keywords — eight times larger than the industry average. That specialized, skilled focus allows its team to operate at an elite level.

2. Adaptability to change

Many boutique marketing firms get their start when creatives from a large agency break free and hang their own shingle. They do so often for the freedom that comes from being their own captains. They’re eager to innovate and try new things, knowing they don’t have to sell a big bureaucracy on the idea — just their client.

3. Access to the right people

The larger the agency you’re dealing with, the lower the chance any particular person you’re talking to will be able to answer your specific question. A standard structure is to employ an account manager as a dedicated point person for a client, letting the client reach out to the individual who has the solution he or she needs.

That might sound fine, but don’t be fooled. It’s for the agency’s convenience, not yours. Because of the focus on volume, these managers are juggling multiple clients. They’re likely disconnected from the day-to-day work being done on any one account. They don’t have the answers you need; their role is to find out who does. They’re go-betweens, barriers between you and the information you truly need.

Boutique firms, on the other hand, have one small team. Your point person will know everything there is to know about your project. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who couldn’t answer every question you have. If you did, that person would still know immediately who to forward you to.

4. More skin in the game

Put plainly, each account matters more to a boutique firm. It’s not that big agencies are full of bad people — it’s just mathematics. If you’re one account out of 100, your individual needs matter less than they would if you were one of four. Call it the Jerry Maguire principle.

It’s also logistics. There are sacrifices that come with scale. To scale, you must routinize, systematize, and automate. There’s less room to treat clients as individuals with individual needs for whom you can offer individual solutions.

The organization becomes the customer, not the client. You can see this in the metrics they use to measure success. Large agencies track success by awards. Boutique firms gauge success by how much they helped their clients.

5. Concentrated excellence

Being small, boutique firms rely heavily on each member of the team. There’s no room for mediocrity or laziness. Boutiques also don’t have multiple divisions or managerial layers. Everyone contributes to everything: positioning, strategy, and execution.

There’s no separation of teams, so there’s no miscommunication among teams. And everyone attends all the meetings. There’s no need for supervisors to have a secondary meeting after the primary meeting to give their interpretation to the creatives about what the client wants. This flat organizational structure makes the team more efficient and earns clients better results.

6. Lower prices

This is the other side of the efficiency coin. When you can eliminate waste in how your team functions and how it’s staffed, you can pass those savings on to the client. Often, boutique advertising budgets are lower because they’re not chasing volume. Some use distributed teams and don’t even maintain an office. Not all boutiques have low overhead, but their small size offers them opportunities for cost savings that are unavailable to larger firms.

7. Bankable track records

When you hire a boutique firm with a successful client history, you know you’re getting the people who were truly responsible for that success. When you hire a large agency, you don’t know which team you’ll be assigned to. Some may be better than others. Perhaps there are only a couple that routinely win the awards that the firm brags about to its prospective clients. It’s possible that most of the teams are never much better than average.

But if you hire Baldwin&, with only 34 employees and $11.4 million in gross revenue, you know you’re getting the people who created the genius edible coupon for Krispy Kreme. If you hire Battery, with only 17 full-time staffers, you know you’ll be working with the creatives who developed the compelling “Be the Batman” campaign for the “Batman: Arkham Knight” video game.

Far from being too small to handle a big account, these kinds of firms can give you much more confidence that you’ll be working with the high-quality creatives who did the work that brought you to the firm in the first place.

One thing small firms can’t offer is a name everyone has heard of. There’s safety in choosing a firm that’s universally recognized — no one ever had to justify why they picked Goliath to win.

But if your company wants to stand out — if it wants innovative marketing, if you want individual attention, and if you want to know the people you’re working with and their individual track records — I urge you not to play it safe.

Whether you’re the CMO of a large business or a small one, hiring a boutique marketing firm could be the best choice you ever make.


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