Bigger Isn’t Always Better – The New Agency Paradigm


As the economy seems to hit hard in our region now, we’ve been seeing a new trend in advertising agency developments – the “virtual agency”. Large to small agencies that once flourished with as few as 5 to as many as 60 staff have all cut back in both size and operations.

With this new moniker comes a kind of subtle embarrassment – as if being a virtual agency is surrender to “real” agency status. These newly reduced agencies are obviously not proud of their new found reductions, and often refer to the non-centralized operations as “an experiment”, or a “temporary downsizing”. The virtual model rips apart the dynamics that traditionally operate at big ad agencies.

Given our technology-assisted ability to effectively manage both projects and clients via non-centralized tools and resources, we SmartBrander’s are a bit perplexed at this subtle perception of status. As a collaborative agency for since our beginnings in 2006, the “virtual” structure has worked perfectly for our teams – and our clients. Granted there have been minor challenges at times, and nothing replaces face-to-face meetings with clients and partners (which we continue to have). But overall, our “virtual” structure was the very reason we formed SmartBrand – and it works.

It’s true that the long hallways or conference rooms full of awards help clients and prospects breath a sigh of relief that their investment in the firm is a sound decision. Those of us with similar awards in boxes don’t have the need or space to display our accolades. Frankly, I find awards to be self-serving, and often subjective and pointless (depending on the type of award). But they do make great doorstops and file dividers in a pinch. I’m not degrading awards, but they often do not measure the effectiveness of the agency’s work – but rather the creativity that is judged by other creatives rather than other client types. We have ample amounts of awards and recognitions among our virtual team to support the “award winning” claim – but find those accolades are best served to our clients than to our prospects.

However, if I had say, ten million dollars to spend on a brand – I’d look first to the large, proven agencies because of their ability to provide the kind of scaled attention to protect that investment. But in these days of tightening budgets, and hesitant economies, those with larger-than-life communications budgets are not investing with the same kind of confidence they did just two years ago.

Is this the time for the virtual agency to become mainstream? If you were to consider working with a virtual agency – what differences would you be willing to accept as part of that relationship, if any?

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