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