Size matters.

You’ve been there before.

“How big is your team?”

The potential client asks. The sense of insecurity draws you to the word “big” and not “team”. You are aware that the client is also talking to the Ogilvys and McCanns, Landors&Fitchs and Interbrands, with their 100offices, 200000people across the network, their collection of Cannes and Effies and D&ADs.

“How big is your team?”

At various points in my career, my answers varied from 5 to 150. For a good part of the pandemic, my answer was 2.

I am not going to deny this. For The Client, there’s a comfort in numbers. Who doesn’t like the idea of an army ready to work? To answer calls or to arrive at the office lobby on-call; to provide 100 options, and to further combine options 1+5+27, 2+3+45; to fight small fires and to do that “one small change” before going online or to print. The luxuries that a small set-up can never give.

The idea of being big mitigates the risk of failing.

What about being small?

I recently had a chat with a client. Told her that her two recent projects – one was done in Oman and the other in Malaysia. Looking a bit surprised, she said, “You know what? It doesn’t matter to me. As long as I know the founders.”

When the pandemic started, we were called for a Zoom meeting. A client was introducing us to another division within his organisation. One line stood out. “Guys, meet Anusha and Kay. They own the business.” Weeks later, jobs started pouring in which eventually kept us busy throughout a good part of 2020.

Jobs that were meant for the McCanns and Ogilvys.

I later found out the reason. The keyword here is accessibility. When offices were locked down, the client discovered the pathway to getting things done in a big setup is not ideal. Think about it. Every requirement goes through a chain, and each part of the chain is attached to a Zoom call (which may or may not involve the client): client to servicing to creative director to art director to designer, and then it goes back to approvals from art director + creative director, counter checked by servicing, before being sent to the client. Client says “no, no, your creatives didn’t get the business objectives”, gives another round of feedback to accounts servicing. And when finally things start to click, the client sends it upwards and then spend Zoom hours talking to higher-ups. Has another round of feedback to pass on, hence starts another series of Zoom calls. Typing all these is already painful, imagine doing it all in real life, in a stressful time called the pandemic?

At times of remote working and amidst hours of tiring Zoom calls, what the client really wants is direct access, to the people who will get the job done.

We were once asked to handle social media posts. Not exactly our cup of tea, but nonetheless, we obliged because the client was too nice to reject. One day the client confessed.

“We actually have a social media agency (note: network agency) on retainer, but for this job, we gave it to you two. Your fees were 3 times the retainer agency.”

Why?

“Because they will assign the juniors onto this job, and I will end up having to art direct them and rewrite their copy to get the job done. In their setup, this is a low-value job, hence the assigning of juniors. But for me, this is still part of my KPI which affects my appraisal…”

A few weeks back I tuned into a webinar by AdWeek on Independent Agencies. There was a session by Julia Shapiro, currently Vice President of marketing at WeTransfer. She had spent enough time on the agency-side to know both sides of the game.

This image captures it all.

The highlights of her talk?

Clients value honesty and collaboration, more than anything else. A few things won’t work for her, especially in a first-impression meeting. For example, touting the number of awards. For example, talking about size – the number of offices and people. And the best part? Bringing all the big guns (think Global CCO, Regional Planning Director) to the first meeting, when everyone knows they aren’t going to be the people working on the project.

What does she value?

Trust. It is not about the award-winning campaigns. It is whether the client can trust the agency to fight little fires together – because that’s what will happen in real life. Collaboration – which also means access – with the experts, ie. founders. The idea? We founders are running a business, and our starting point of collaboration is naturally, helping a client solve a business problem with our expertise.

And to close the question of how big is your team, here’s a very good point:

Be honest about your resources. It’s ok not to have everything in house. It’s ok to be resourceful.


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