Nimble, fast midsize firms make their mark

The numbers are in, and they continue to show midsize agencies climbing at a faster rate than other firms

It’s been the time of midsized firms for a while now, and this year’s data in the annual Agency Business Report does nothing to dispel that trend.

Agencies such as Prosek Partners (+21%), M Booth (+17%), Zeno Group (+14%), and Allison+Partners (+12%) far outperformed their big box rivals in global growth percentage stakes in 2018.

The midsized focus on nimbleness and airtime with senior personnel is a compelling mix for clients tired of large firms that try to sell them things they don’t want and hourly billing structures that don’t optimize efficient and effective working.

It was telling the biggest PR firm of them all, Edelman, had a tough year and declined in year-over-year revenue by 1.1%. It is also lagging in the gender leadership stakes, with only 30% of offices led by women, compared to 58% at FleishmanHillard, 54% at Ketchum, 49% at Weber Shandwick and 46% at Golin.

The drive to become the first $1 billion agency might be exciting for industry observers but it fails to set the pulse racing client-side, where heads of communications and marketing are more concerned with creativity, high-level strategic thinking and work that moves the needle. Size also doesn’t bring material benefits to staffs working within those large firms, which may be one reason why turnover was so pronounced last year.

Size as an end in itself is, if anything, a disincentive. You can’t focus on numbers and expect amazing things to happen for clients. Midsized agencies are agile, fast and aggressive.

Clients want agencies to be catalysts for change and they’re more willing than ever to hire smart local firms to achieve this. When big shops come calling they have a tendency to all sound alike.

BCW CEO Donna Imperato admitted as much when she described the process by which her firm came up with its Moving People strapline.

BCW’s review of everyone else’s positioning reiterated how hard it is to tell the difference between the offers. We’ll see how Moving People plays out over the next 12 months.

It’s not impossible for large agencies to be agile, nimble and creative, and scale is certainly an asset for big global enterprises, but maybe they have something to learn from the small and midsize rivals increasingly finding favor with clients.

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