By Meghan Linehan – Director of Accounts at Something Different
The business world is changing at speed and to succeed it no longer makes sense to stay in your lane. We must adjust our ways of operating to the new business landscape if we want to stay relevant.
First we must take stock of what this landscape looks like. As industries and tech hubs move away from their geographical locations to where company founders live, they are fast becoming decentralized. Silicon Valley may soon be more of a mindset than a geographical location.
Businesses are also realizing they must become more agile, nimble and responsive in order to survive. An entrepreneurial approach sparks innovation, creativity and efficiency, and this is just as critical for ad agencies as it is for the big players in the tech world.
Smaller ad agencies with tight teams and agility at their core are finding themselves in the position to deliver faster and adjust more quickly. By contrast we’re seeing bigger global agency groups, including Omnicom and Publicis, reporting weaker earnings this year, with many big shops refiguring their operations in order to become more nimble as well as to cut costs.
I spent much of my career in large agencies but it wasn’t until I joined a smaller agency that I got to think big. If big ad groups start emulating the approaches taken by startups and smaller independents they stand a much better chance of staying competitive through and beyond this crisis. Here are some key learnings from small agency culture:
Be open, accessible and transparent
When I first joined a smaller company I was immediately given access to information and insights I wouldn’t normally be privy to. The layers were gone, there was little to no emphasis on departments and everybody shared pretty much everything. We expect clients to be part of the conversation at every stage too. I can talk very openly about the process, the possibilities and the workings behind what we’re delivering. And we often share ideas on scrappy word documents rather than spending a week preparing a glossy keynote. Things move at a faster pace because there’s more conversation and less presentation. This was not usually the case at larger, more corporate agencies.
Learn how to say ‘no’
It always feels best to say “yes” or “let us figure it out”. But there are times when you just don’t stand behind a brief or you don’t feel like the relationship between agency and client is the right fit. It came as a relief when I moved to a small company where giving an honest ‘no’ or ‘I disagree’ was acceptable. In my experience, the structure at larger companies didn’t allow for this level of authenticity. We recently turned down a large brand purely because our agency founders thought working on the account would make our people miserable. I think it goes without saying that when you’re working on things you enjoy, you do better work. And when you know you have support you want to work hard.
Variety is crucial
In one working day, I can be handling a small cannabis company, a big telecommunications provider or a financial services brand. In bigger agencies, employees are often stuck on the same accounts year after year. While there are obvious benefits to working on the same business for years, it can also become limiting for people and result in the work and client relationship becoming stale and uninspired.
Flexible structures make you more agile
Big agencies tend to have more rigid structures which can limit cross-agency communication for remote workers and lead to confusion and disordered and inefficient working practices. The structures at small agencies are much more fluid, making communications more direct and inclusive and keeping team members at all levels and across disciplines engaged and up to speed. This also results in less buck passing and a speedier response which ultimately helps clients feel more supported through both good times and bad.