There’s a fascinating byliner in PR Week by Laurie Dodge, who says she’s worked on both the client and agency side, and managed agencies large and small.
Dodge’s missive is less than flattering towards the bigger agencies. She decries what she calls the ‘senior person syndrome,’ otherwise known as ‘bait-and-switch.’ She also mentions a big agency propensity for young, inexperienced staff learning at the client’s expense as well as peddling ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions ‘….that worked for someone else."
I’ve had the opportunity to work for several large agencies and, sad to say, I’ve seen numerous examples of what Ms. Dodge has pointed out. I’d like to think these service issues are caused by the financial pressures placed on the big guys by their holding company parents and not some sort of corporate apathy that besets the larger firms.
I remember the CFO of one large agency periodically demanding that our account people increase fees in order to satisfy the holding company profit goals. She justified her demands by claiming that our clients ‘always had extra money stashed away in some desk drawer.’ I guess CFOs had more room to be creative in those pre-Enron days,
While I’m sure that particular CFOs behavior was extreme, I have to tell you we do love competing for business against the big guys. It’s much easier to sell against some of the weaknesses cited by Ms. Dodge than it is to go up against the best and brightest of the independent midsized agency world.
That said, there’s a definite need for large agencies, especially if a client has on-the-ground needs in multiple markets or a deep and specific need in a particular area such as public affairs. But, as more and more corporations are learning, bigger isn’t always better.