Mike Fromowitz
Feb 10, 2012

Small Agency vs Big Agency

Recently, several friends of mine in the advertising industry have written to me about their new start-up advertising agencies. I’m both proud and excited for them.The early days of starting one’s ...

Small Agency vs Big Agency

Recently, several friends of mine in the advertising industry have written to me about their new start-up advertising agencies. I’m both proud and excited for them.

The early days of starting one’s own agency is some of the toughest you will have as an ad professional. You give up the frills, the perks and the comforts of a big-agency lifestyle.  You find yourself doing the sort of work you’ve never envisioned. One minute your a receptionist, next minute you’re having to complete the admin-paperwork for the accountant. And those long nights spent putting together pitch presentations – well, they never stop. In fact, they become even more intense for the start-up. But it’s those special mornings that are worth it.  You wake up thinking about work, not office politics.

These days, more and more talented people are finding themselves disillusioned with the big-agency mindset. The urge to break free and do their own thing is why we are seeing several new start-up ad agencies flying their own flag.

These are exciting times. Asia’s advertising market is predicted to be worth over $22 billion by 2015. That is huge opportunity for both  entrepreneurial start-up ad agencies and the big global brands.

A recent study shows that 55% of marketers lament that their ad agencies have not done enough with their campaigns and marketing dollars to push for better results. They want their ad agencies to be more results-oriented. The perception among clients is often that their agencies are not adding value. Little wonder then that many clients from Singapore to Hong Kong are handing off projects to new ad agency start-ups.

While many new start-ups are being established to focus on social media or data analytics, others are taking a more traditional approach to engage clients in high-level business consulting. They recognise the relationship advertising agencies have today with clients is different to that of 10 to 15 years ago. And it opens new opportunities for the small guy to get in their and grab a project or two.

With the explosion of different marketing tools like the web and other new media options, many clients are suddenly dealing with four, five or six different agency partners rather than just one or two.  The real added value for clients is in the thinking and in the ideas generated, rather than in making ads.

New start-up agencies are proving that the size of the agency makes no difference at all. Nor does the scope, nor the geographic reach of the agency. At the end of the day, the difference for any client is really in the people, and the work they produce. Clients want the people that bring the experience, knowledge, insight, and contacts that will make a difference in that organization’s results and bottom line.

Industry professionals say the cost of working with smaller agencies is cheaper by 10-40%. To some advertisers, however, it’s the result that matters—not so much the cost or the size of the shop, and, as long as the creative leads to the desired results in the marketplace.

Whether you are a big or small brand marketer, you should seek out original thinking and the people who can make a difference, individuals who have the integrity to work whatever hours are necessary to get the job done; people who can share opinions and come up with better ideas as a result.

Big staff numbers and multi-disciplined agency departments do not necessarily spell good service. One or two people with brains, common sense, guts, and know-how are better than a room full of drones.

Here’s a few of the new start-up ad agencies to watch:

Blak Labs, Singapore— one of the newer creative agencies that specializes in co-creation, collaboration and creative care. They place senior talents on their clients' business so they “can deliver superior creative thinking quickly”. Blak Labs has quickly attracted new business from Maybank, Fuji Xerox, Coca-Cola, NParks and several other undisclosed clients.

KymeChow Communications, Hong Kong— a creative services agency for multinational clients in Asia, providing creative brand solutions across a broad range of channels relevant to the modern consumer or business markets.

Mangham Gaxiola, Singapore—the biggest independent start-up in Singapore with over SGD25 million in billings. Mangham, ex-Ogilvy Group Chairman,  lead Ogilvy to almost trebling their revenue. Gaxiola, ex-Ogilvy ECD, was named the Hall of Fame’s first creative director of the year, chairing the 4A’s Creative Circle Awards and representing Singapore on the Cannes Lions’ jury. The two intend to make MG a great place to work. There will be “no philosophies, titles, time-sheets or Lotus Notes”.

ICE Inc, Singapore—Founder Terrence Tan, who has more than 25 years experience in the industry, has left his highly-visible position as DDB’s award winning CD to start his own shop which he says, would be "80% design and 20% advertising".

Alchemy Asia, Hong Kong— a deep bench of planners, creatives, design and digital professionals uncover revealing insights and convert them into imaginative and impactful solutions across all communication channels.

Arcade, Singapore—a branding, campaign, content, experiential and social media agency. They call themselves an IP agency, developing successful projects released under the Arcade brand. This has included an independent feature film, proprietary software and games amongst other things.

If you are a new start-up ad agency, please send me some information on your company. I’d like to let readers of this blog know about you and what you do. Who knows, you may get some new business leads out of it. Thanks.

Mike Fromowitz



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