Today we’re tooting our own horn a bit, and praising small firms of all kinds. In the mergers and acquisitions craze of the last few decades in advertising, there were times when it felt like there were only 3 big agencies in the world. But today, small independent firms and freelancers, very entrepreneurial and fearless, cover the landscape like wildflowers in the Rockies. Some specialize in a particular domain, such as social media or mobile, and others are generalists. Nearly two decades ago, author Daniel Pink predicted this in his prophetic book Free Agent Nation, where he predicted that many of the most talented people in business would tire of the huge companies and leave to create their own destinies or join a small innovative shop.
We’re also finding that clients of every size and type are reaching out to partner with small to medium-sized independent agencies who have greater flexibility, creativity and speed than large, cumbersome firms. This is also resulting in lots of ‘strange bedfellows’, i.e., agencies that are vastly different on the surface partnering with each other to combine skill sets.
There’s an award show in Canada called The Cassies, which honours campaigns that can clearly show outstanding business results as a direct result of advertising. I’m not shy about saying that I’ve won numerous Cassies awards. But ten years ago, when I worked at a big trans-national agency, that award show, held in a large ballroom with some level of pomp, was dominated by the big names. Ogilvy, Y&R, Leo Burnett and my employer at the time, JWT.
Two years ago, I attended the show again to receive an award with a very important client, and was delighted to see that more than half of the awards went to small or completely unknown agencies. The landscape had truly changed, and there was no turning back.
In a recent address to the Oxford Union, Anna Wintour of Vogue notes how beneficial it was at the beginning of her career, when she worked with “tiny staffs and even tinier budgets”. “This put a premium on originality, independence, and risk-taking. Thanks to that, I arrived in New York knowing how to do a little of everything.” See below for the full address.