For the last 50 years, disruption has been a hallmark theme in marketing and advertising. Ever since AVIS introduced the instant-classic “We Try Harder” campaign, brands and agencies alike have thirsted for an insightful tagline, game-changing brand identity, or splashy stunt to disrupt industry norms. It’s an unusual turn, then, that we find disruption rushing to the doorstep of every agency in the industry. With the arrival of COVID-19 in early 2020, ‘online’ hit an all-time high and disruption came rushing to the doorstep of every organization – how do we stand out during a pandemic? Meetings pivoted virtually, e-commerce became essential, social media solidified itself as America’s true pastime, and in one of the largest disruptive decisions in recent memory, Hollywood decided that streaming blockbusters online was better than risking openings in brick-and-mortars. In short, we’ve all had to reexamine our behaviors, expectations and relationships. In that wake, one industry truth has become clear: Due to their ability to creatively adapt to changing landscapes, boutique agencies are proving to be the thought-leaders businesses need.
Why COVID-19 is causing a shift in rethinking agency models
Consider the traditional, large agency model. With flagship locations throughout the country—if not the world—these behemoths are undisputed titans. Brands want to hire them. Aspiring account managers want to work for them and indie agencies look up to them. But in a new reality that’s reshaping how we work; large agencies are showing they’re not necessarily designed for the fast-evolving needs of companies navigating current choppy waters. High turnover, late adoption to new tech strategies, multiple layers of approval, and bloated client rosters are just a few of the weights slowing down industry giants. With agency layoffs predicted to reach beyond 50,000 across the board in 2021, according to research by Forrester, a restructuring of the agency model is inevitable, and the smaller outfits might just hold the blueprint to success. Here are five reasons why a boutique model is positioned to meet this unique occasion.
Clients get the whole pie, not just a slice
Boutique agencies are tightknit operations, like a family. It’s not uncommon to know the favorite treat of your co-worker’s dog—or even work alongside your co-worker’s dog. For these agencies, an integrated culture means happy employees, which translates into reliable and fruitful relationships with clients. Strong co-worker relationships not only boost employee satisfaction by 50-percent but also have a tremendous impact on collaboration within the office, even if that’s virtual these days.
Speaking of collaboration, tightknit agencies also encourage their employees to get familiar with and invested in each other’s work, a culture that’s bolstered by weekly standup meetings. This creates a free exchange of ideas that benefit all clients in an agency’s roster—idea sharing at its finest. With the strategic and creative ideation of an entire agency in their corner, not the classic siloed team that’s often a product of design for larger organizations, clients are better positioned for success.
Accounts are driven by relationships
Agency-client relationships are the cornerstone of doing business at a boutique shop. For clients who work with the bigger outfits, it’s not uncommon to call about a campaign question or concern, only to get a junior executive who might not be clued in to all the nuances of the project. In today’s current climate, which is changing by the minute as we lock down, open up, and lock down again, clients need an agency that is there for every question along the way. Due to their size, these agencies also have the luxury of carefully curating their list of clients. Because they simply can’t serve everyone, each client gets the white glove treatment.
Boutique agencies are known for moving swiftly
While the agency world is fast-paced, larger outfits still require a long runway to launch campaigns. Endless internal hurdles, approval-by-committee, and creative teams stretched thin by client overload can bog a campaign down, especially in our current environment where plans can change overnight. At indie agencies, efficiency allows campaigns to go from ideation to execution at a faster pace. Once a client and account manager agree on a strategy, it’s off to the races.
What if a campaign needs to adapt to new government mandates or sudden changes in consumer behavior? No problem. A nimble agency can pivot and execute quickly.
Working remotely isn’t novel, it’s normal
For agencies that don’t pack hundreds into an office building, experimental and unorthodox working habits are often promoted and encouraged. When the country switched to remote work for non-essential employees in the spring of 2020, boutique agencies already had that covered. These agencies foster a culture that encourages flexible hours and remote work—whether that’s working from a home-office or setting up shop outside with a cup of coffee. They’re even likely to be the first to adapt to issues that arise with changes in the workplace, like finding creative ways to alleviate Zoom fatigue. While the importance of an in-person presence and an inspired workplace can never be underestimated, indie agencies are always actively pursuing and embracing new ideas in the evolving workplace.
Boutique agencies are cost-effective, especially during times of uncertainty
Budget cuts across industries have become an unfortunate reality during the pandemic. This has not only impacted the operating budgets of clients but also larger agencies. Clients suddenly find themselves in a position where their marketing budget is more scrutinized than ever: Hiring an agency that’s nimble and relationship-driven is an easier sell than larger, corporate entities. Potential clients are also rethinking their ability to afford an in-house creative team, especially when the average employee costs an additional 25 to 40 percent above their wage or salary. For potential clients that had to shave their in-house talent due to budget restrictions, bringing in a specialized team to create and execute projects can be highly cost-effective.
Boutique agencies are the ultimate plug-and-play move. With a nimble team of vetted talent, they can move in quickly to address the needs of the client and prove themselves worthy of sticking around for the long-haul. Agencies aren’t known for hiring clock-punchers, and at indie shops, friendly competition, professional integrity and personal accountability come standard.
As the industry continues to wrestle with a disruptive pandemic and a consumer landscape that continues to shift, there’s no shortage of lessons to learn, especially when it comes to operations. Perhaps flying a team across the country for a meeting was never necessary, nor was requiring strict in-person attendance during operating hours. Bloat weighs an operation down and serves neither the agency nor the client. Being nimble is the key to success, which is something boutique agencies have been practicing for years.