Dominic Mills wrote an interesting article on Mediatel this week about the Elephant and the Flea. Essentially, Networks are big elephants and us independents are the fleas buzzing around picking up the loose ends. Not quite his point… but something like that.
He makes a valid point about ‘most’ agencies being behemoths, and of course for so long media agencies have targeted growth because it becomes self-fulfilling to fund deals and compete with other agencies on price.
However, there are plenty that have a point of difference, such as us of course – agencies focused on clients who need a better strategy, and on working with specific clients. Not necessarily niche as referenced in Dominic’s articles, but clients who need something more than networks deliver. Greatness, not bigness is a focus of our agency and I know that we couldn’t do what we do brilliantly if we were big.
With a pyramid structure you get the value of having a high volume of execs. They come with their strengths; a hunger, desire, passion to learn, grow and climb the ladder and an innate ability to drink until clients give in and go to bed! Sadly, it also means an agency lacking in experience, knowledge and general acumen of having been there and done that (Jesus, I sound old!). Depends on what you need from an agency I suppose, but the pyramid is certainly more prevalent in bigger (and bigger means network) agencies.
A point made indirectly in the article is that big agencies are brilliant….for the right client, and I agree. Selecting an agency shouldn’t always be about size. In business where they can control strategy internally, have the knowledge base to best understand how media fits within the mix and have a need to commoditise media with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of group deals. Big marketing teams work well with big agencies where relationships are less critical and churn is high. All very different to what you get in a smaller independent agency.
The odd thing in the article is the focus on entrepreneurialism and the specific reference to Communication partners. Dominic references agencies that are set up to be different and have a more service focused approach. That and entrepreneurialism are two very different things. I have never been one for bashing other agencies (a common trait in media agencies!) but whilst Communication Partners certainly has some gravitas through its people, it appears to have been set up with clients in mind – a pre identified new business channel – none of which would make me think it’s ‘entrepreneurial’. Further, it’s an agency offering that might have looked out of date in 2005? No TV buying and no digital. Old school media buying in limited channels. Entrepreneurial? I suppose you might get away with that in in London!
All the same, another independent is a good sign for the industry and I absolutely hope they thrive.
Further, Dominic references 7 Stars, PHD North and Carat Manchester as ‘entrepreneurial’ businesses. I would argue they can use the word but they won’t deliver the sentiment. It’s OK to use the term but when you have pots to piss in via group deals and a network with a stake in your business, I would really argue how independent, free thinking and entrepreneurial they really are. Again, I’m not saying they’re not brilliant – Carat are the biggest billing agency in the North. PHD have a great reputation in the regions and 7 Stars are, for me, THE agency of the moment.
However, the reason they are sucking big accounts from northern network agencies is not because they are ‘entrepreneurial’ but because they act better. They focus on strategy not commoditisation, and not group deals but the right deal. That’s not niche, it’s just better. Clients are changing, they want strategy first, and they care less for buying cheap and more for buying better. That is demonstrated by 7 Stars winning Iceland, Victoria Plumb and more.
So ‘entrepreneurialism’ is not relevant in this debate. Let’s be honest, it’s a bit of a wanky term now anyway. Having said that, if by using the term we mean finding a gap and filling it, thinking beyond the boundaries of expectation and rattling the norms, then there are plenty of entrepreneurial businesses and I’d be happy to be in that bracket. Not so sure Communication Partners were worthy of the high value exposure they received though? I could think of plenty more agencies that better fit the entrepreneurial title and are worthy of being called a flea.