Why BIG isn’t always better – the rise of the specialist agency

When it comes to selecting an agency, many people have the idea that a bigger is better. After all, it stands to reason that a large agency would have access to more resources. Large agencies often have a solid track record of winning some pretty impressive awards, and they have brand recognition; the old adage “no one ever got fired for hiring IBM” could just as easily say Edelman or Brunswick when it comes to PR agencies. So, what’s the catch?

Big agency, big price tag!

Big agencies charge big prices to do the same work that often a smaller agency can do just as well.  The passionate, senior team that convinced you to sign the contract may provide “direction” and not much else. At a smaller agency, the organisation tends to be pretty flat, so the team that you meet during the sales process is usually the team that will be doing the actual work.

The knowledge

Specialist PR agencies often work within one particular sector, whether it’s fashion, health, financial services or technology. Specialist or boutique agencies may have a deeper understanding of your industry. They will have built good relationships with key journalists, and be relied upon as a good source for industry comments from their client roster, often placing stories in niche industry titles in addition to the mainstream media.

A niche agency that “gets it” can be a better choice than a big firm that has brand recognition and a broad knowledge of your industry. At the end of the day, you don’t want your investment to be spent on educating a junior member of their team or London office rents.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick…

When it comes to agency work, creativity and innovation is the name of the game – and neither skill is limited to agencies with a big staff and a fat budget. In fact, small agencies often make their mark because they can react quickly and are willing to try new and innovative approaches.

Crunch the numbers

Your business represents a bigger percentage of overall revenue with a smaller agency, so it’s in their best interest to make sure you’re happy. At a big agency, results might be measured in terms of “did we complete all the actions?” At a small agency, the question is more likely to be, “did we add value to our client?”.

It sounds simple, but you should only work with an agency that is as invested in your results as you are. Niche agencies are highly engaged – and very hungry – because their willingness to go above and beyond to get business results is often their bread and butter.

Some estimates suggest that there are more than 4,000 PR firms in the UK. According to PR Week, specialist PR firms outgrew the big, full-service agencies, stating: “A lot of global clients actively switched from large, networked agencies to more creative global independents.”

Marketing teams often come under pressure from investors and senior managers to go with a “safe” choice when they are looking for a new PR agency. That’s usually code for one the ‘big brand’ London agencies.

When you are next in the market for an agency, research your options and present the ‘boutique’ specialist PR alternatives to the board of directors. There are some amazing agencies out there who speak your lingo, know your competitors and understand your industry intimately. They will often go the extra mile to retain your business, and they will help you to get much more from your marketing budget too.