The Price of Hype

The Price of Hype

5184 3456 Hunt Adkins



Imagine your brand is looking to partner with a new agency, and you read the following experience profile of one agency’s leadership team:

Strategy Leader: 33 years of experience on accounts including Federal Express, Hush Puppies, OM Scott & Sons, VH1, ABC Television, AT&T and IBM.

Planning Leader: 18 years of experience at agencies like FutureBrand McCann and GEM Group, working on brands including Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Phillip Morris and Dell Global; graduate of Brown University in Art Semiotics.

Account Management Leader: 20 years of experience on brands including AG Edwards, Mercedes Benz, Pepsi Co., Simply Potatoes and Fetzer Wines.

Creative and Innovation Leader: 15 years of experience working on brands including Air America, Malt-O-Meal, Nickelodeon, Dreamworks, Steelcase and PENTAX.

Media Strategy Leader: 10 years of experience on both agency and client sides, working on General Mills, Salix Pharmaceuticals, Cruisers and Rampage Yachts. Built the social and digital media practice for Buffalo Wild Wings and led effort to transform digital operations at CarHop.

Would you assume these credentials belong to the leaders of a big-name agency, or could this be a small shop? Does it matter? And, perhaps more importantly, should it?

Let’s discuss.

The topic of small agencies working for large brands emerges on a cyclical basis every 5-10 years, but the current trend seems to have more traction, as an increasing number of small agencies are displacing larger shops on some of the country’s biggest brands.

In many cases the reasons for this shift are practical and straightforward:

  • The smaller agency has specific experience in a category or with a particular type of execution a client has designated as critical.
  • The smaller agency has a relationship with senior leadership at the client brand.
  • The smaller agency is geographically close to the client brand.
  • The smaller agency has broader and deeper experience (much like the team profiled above).
  • The client brand has a desire to work directly with agency leaders as opposed to the team managed by them.

In other cases, the reasons are more enterprising:

  • The client brand understands that business success depends on leapfrogging operational or industry status quo.
  • The client brand seeks the vision to develop resources not currently supported in-house.
  • The client brand desires to shift toward more nimble, iterative startup thinking and implementation.
  • The client brand wants an agency that can collaborate with them as a peer, drilling down into their business and bringing in other agency partners as needed to enable brand leadership.

For these and other reasons, small agencies have made great strides in being considered viable and valuable partners to their clients. However, many big brands still can’t let go of the “traditional” way of doing things.

Much like the clichéd adage “No one gets fired for hiring IBM,” many clients feel they need a big-name agency to minimize risk and ensure success. Despite the fact that the experience level within a small agency can be equal to or better than the team that ends up being assigned to an account at the large agency (spoiler alert: the credentials at beginning of this article belong to Hunt Adkins’ leaders), and the fact that research and media planning tools, tech platforms and production partners and resources are often at parity, some clients are still willing to pay more for a big agency name.

It takes a unique CMO or branding leader to engage with a small agency and gain C-suite approval to pursue this seemingly risky partnership. These leaders are typically entrepreneurial in a non-entrepreneurial culture. They have confidence in their convictions. They are respected by their peers and those at the very top of their organization. They want to compete. They want to win. And, most importantly, they understand that prioritizing their brand’s business success will ultimately result in their own personal and professional success as well.

On the surface, it seems to be an easy decision: Hire a small agency made up of a dedicated team of passionate and experienced leaders with proven experience working on large brands. You’ll enjoy more satisfying collaboration, faster results and nimbler optimization—typically at a significantly lower cost.

If only it were that easy.

Thankfully for us, more and more brand leaders do see it just that way—easy. They embrace collaborating with smart and experienced leaders. They allocate resources more effectively. They have the confidence to optimize on a continual basis. They want to be measured. They believe the most risky thing to do is hire IBM—they’d rather work with Apple. Most of all, they’ll do whatever it takes to win big. And no one understands that mentality better than us little guys. – PH


Interested in learning more? Patrick Hunt, President and CEO of Hunt Adkins, will be speaking at AdFed’s New Truths: Why Big Brands Choose Small Agencies event at Little & Co. on Thursday, June 28 at 5:30 PM.


Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash