Client service remains a staple for smaller firms

Client service is something that small agencies are often known for doing well. With the economy pushing more companies to tighten their budgets, small firms are finding that quality client service is keeping business strong.

Client service is something that small agencies are often known for doing well. With the economy pushing more companies to tighten their budgets, small firms are finding that quality client service is keeping business strong.

Despite the economic situation, boutique agencies have flourished because they can provide seasoned, senior counsel and one-on-one service to not only their most important clients, but their entire client roster, says Jennifer Abelson, president of Abelson Group, a nine-employee technology and telecommunications agency in New York.

“We're not competing for business, and we're not focused on building an empire,” she explains.

Abelson notes that because they are accessible and responsive, clients can better rely on smaller agencies. As companies struggle with the economic downturn and worry about every expenditure, the reassurance of a senior executive from the PR firm can be one added element to help defend the PR expense.

“Some agencies ran well, conservatively,” she says about working for a larger agency during a previous economic downturn. “Not a lot were going above and beyond” in terms of client service.

Scott Phillips, president of Chicago-based Phillips and Associates, which has six staffers, says that the role between the agency and the client becomes more of a partnership when senior-level staff members work closely with corporate communicators on a regular basis.

Phillips adds that Wincor Nixdorf International, a global ATM provider, has remained a client for the past year and a half because the firm is able to provide the company with a great deal of attention.

“It's very much on a partnership level,” he says. “We have that sort of flexibility. We can do everything a large firm can with a more reasonable budget and access to senior consultants. [Plus, the clients] are terribly important to us.”

And by being accessible, clients, who might be handling a crises (whether related to the economy or not) never have to wonder why someone at their firm isn't available, says Rich Silverman, senior partner and cofounder of Silverman Communications Group in New York.

Silverman, a former partner at Brunswick Group, launched the two-person agency in July on the premise that it could provide senior-level counsel – and only senior-level counsel – to its clients.

In terms of client service, Silverman says: “Frankly, that's all we have.”

He adds that clients have been requesting client service for years, but today's environment offers an “unprecedented time” for smaller agencies that lost accounts to bigger agencies to regain their position in the PR hierarchy.

“2009 can be very fruitful for small and midsize firms who can step up [for] larger institutions,” explains Silverman.

Abelson notes that it's not as original a concept as it was six years ago, but client service remains one of the most important attributes for small agencies.

“We're more nimble, more entrepreneurial,” she says. “And we have seasoned [staff].”

Key points:

Smaller firms can provide clients with regular access to senior staffers

In times of crisis, companies can rely on their agency partners for accessibility and focus

Firms can put more focus on clients if they have a smaller roster of them

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