Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 18, 2012 9:20 PM

The Size Of The Boat. The Motion Of The Ocean.

Does size matter? Get your mind out of the gutter.

As one of my main roles at Twist Image, I act as the frontline (along with a great team of people) of assessing new business opportunities. While some agencies may have their opportunity filter down to a science, I'd happily contend that our process has little bit more art sprinkled into it. With that comes a reality: we have two offices, about one hundred plus people and as one of the four owners of this business, the responsibility to keep the lights on and those families fed looms large on my mind. Does this mean that we take work for the money? Yes. This is a business and a large function of it is about making money and it is (sometimes) easy to fall into the trap of doing something because the money is good, but the money is not what the work is about.

The work is about the work.

There is no major innovation here, but I believe that people who are doing the work that they were meant to do not only get paid the money that they deserve to be paid, but that the clients (or the benefactors of the work) are happy to pay these fees because they are getting value out of it. Is it a perfect world? No. There are hiccups along the way. In most cases, the reason has to do with alignment. It could alignment around values, ideas, direction and more. We're all sentient beings and we're looking to work with those who are - ultimately - like-minded and committed to the brand... and the best work possible.

Are you a titan?

On the flight home from the National Retail Federation's Big Show (where I gave a keynote address for the First Look Track), I was watching the CNBC Titans special on Leo Burnett (if you have not had the opportunity to see this documentary on the legendary ad man, I highly recommend it). The story of Burnett's ascent in the advertising world is one for the books. How he managed to build his empire from a small Chicago hotel suite to a multi-billion dollar global advertising engine will take your breath away. As an agency owner, I was more attracted to the moments when the agency stumbled. Was Leo Burnett better as a smaller shop, medium-sized agency or a global entity?

There are pluses and minuses.

Growth for growth's sake is never a good thing. Sudden growth because of a major new client acquisition can be challenging to scale as well. There are countless potholes on the road to growth and a simple pebble on the side of the road can be as distracting as the transition from a residential road on to the freeway. That being said, I think it's going to be increasingly difficult for the very small shops to grab the bigger brands (and keep them). Now, before you go jumping all over the comments and telling me that your small boutique firm works with some of the largest brands in the world, let me be clear that I am talking about full-service (or fairly close to it). I have no doubt that some of the smaller, boutique specialty shops who work in a very specific niche can do great, global work.

The size of the boat.

It's a two way street. Brands have to know their limitations and their expectations. When a small start-up tries to engage with a middle-to-large sized agency, it probably won't be a great fit. Box within your weight class. Find a shop that is (somewhat) similar in size that can be both nimble and rugged. Bigger brands who engage with the smaller, boutique shops usually get great results, but as the business grows and the brand requires more attention, it can be extremely challenging for the agency to keep the client happy (both in terms of work and brining on the right people quick enough).

So, what's the lesson?

Size matters because size is a function and part of finding the right fit. Should brands take chances on the new, smaller agencies? Of course they should (and brands did that when Leo Burnett wasn't the Leo Burnett we all know and respect), but as the world gets more complex and more fragmented (in terms of media and marketing options), we're going to see things change. Traditional agencies are already bulking up on their digital capabilities and the digital marketing agencies that have scaled will probably be pulling some of the more traditional folks over to their side to bulk up as well. My guess is that brands are going to be looking for both creative innovation and the scale to get the work done.

What's your guess?

By Mitch Joel