Thursday, December 20, 2007

So, what's the head count over at the agency?

For the ooopty-ith time since we’ve been in business, we recently heard from a new client about a major research or branding project just completed by some large agency or firm that fell short. In this case, the reaction was along the lines of: “Branding, schmading. They didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.”

But it still came with your basic, bona-fide hefty price tag.

We hear this now and then. And, more often than not, in our experience, it’s one of the large, national PR firms that did the work. I don’t mean for this to be a knock on PR firms (I’m a card-carrying APR member of the PRSA) or big agencies (of course I know big agencies do great work; in our market Arnold comes immediately to mind.)

And I’d be stupid to try to make the argument that research, branding or any other kind of similar project isn’t usually worth doing. That’s not it at all. Besides, I’d like to think I’m not stupid. At least my mother never thought I was. Neither does my sister.

What it is, is that the only thing you can say with absolute certainty is that work performed by a big group is going to be more expensive than work performed by a small or medium group. You absolutely cannot say with equal certainty that it will be better work or more valuable advice. But often, credibility is shaped by the number of cars in the employee lot.

You know, the “Well, they’re a big company and they handle So-And-So, so they must be right” approach. When what is really called for is a cold, hard look at the work or counsel itself and let it stand or fall on its own merit. Speaking for smaller agencies and PR firms, I say that, as often as not, our work can stand up to that done by groups much bigger than we are. What’s that saying about it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog? Like that.

Don’t misunderstand. Big agencies and PR firms got there for a reason. Good work. They earned their growth and success. But that doesn’t mean that whatever they come up with is automatically sound or worth the money. They are easily as capable of dreaming up bone-headed ideas or boondoggle projects as anybody else. By the same token, the fact that an agency is small doesn't mean their ideas aren't big. Or that their advice isn't good.

So the next time your smaller agency or PR firm makes a recommendation or gives you an idea, don’t factor in the square footage of their office space. Don’t do it the next time your big agency or PR firm makes a recommendation or gives you an idea either.

Remember, Ford Motor Company is a pretty big organization. They developed the Mustang.

But they also came up with the Edsel.

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