COMMENT: PLATFORM; Finding gold at the end of a little rainbow

Big name agencies would be foolish to overlook the potentially of small budget, upwardly mobile clients, says Julian Goldsmith

Big name agencies would be foolish to overlook the potentially of small

budget, upwardly mobile clients, says Julian Goldsmith

A client rings up with a special request. They want you, as their PR

consultant, to source an advertising agency. And they want a particular

kind of agency - one which can initially work to small budgets and can

understand the ethos and culture of a small, fast-growing new company.

But they also want a high-profile name that both they, and in this case,

their large organisation backers, have heard of and ‘feel comfortable’

with. So where do you start looking?

I was lucky. A quick telephone call to a contact at Saatchi and Saatchi

Advertising soon provided the answer. I was directed to one of their

subsidiary agencies, Team Saatchi, which specialises in small, aspiring

clients who don’t have huge budgets, but nevertheless wish to be

associated with a strong, well-known communications brand.

The difficulty of finding an agency which can handle that combination of

requirements raises a question for the PR agency world. How often are

fledgling clients dismissed by the big names which cannot be bothered to

accommodate such ‘small fry’? Having been turned down by the larger

players, the smaller clients have to turn to the very small or fringe

agencies which, inevitably, are unlikely to grow with the client when

the need and the budget takes off.

On another occasion a client asked us to source some potential European

PR agency partners that we could work with on a pan-European programme.

I contacted one of France’s largest PR agencies. Instead of being turned

away, I was introduced to their subsidiary agency which specialised in

smaller clients. It had its own lower cost structure and a small number

of highly committed, good quality consultants and clients.

The lesson to be learned from these experiences is that agencies need to

plan the structure and terms of reference of their secondary agencies.

There are three main reasons why secondary agencies exist: as a

specialist operation; to service conflict-of-interest clients; or - more

cynically - as a vehicle for those clients whom the main agency, ever

watchful of the purity of its own parent brand, finds it less than

desirable to have on its client list.

While these agencies make sense, so does an agency with a more ‘venture

capital’ outlook. For every small budget, every demanding client that

‘looks more trouble than it’s worth’, there is the potential of gold at

the end of the rainbow.

Such an agency should be able to stretch itself in any number of ways to

facilitate a client’s often diverse PR and marketing communications

needs. And its own cost structure and culture should be able to mirror

the fears and aspirations of those entrepreneurial clients, be they set-

ups, a consortium grouping, management buy-outs or buy-ins.

But if clients grow rapidly, along with their budgets, will the

subsidiary agency happily hand them over to their larger, more resourced

parent organisation? Like hell they will. So does the argument fall


Not at all because by then the small, fast-on-its-feet agency will be a

big and established one itself, and it will be time for it to spawn

another new agency of its own.

Julian Goldsmith is managing director of Sector Public Relations

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in