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Agencies Need Business Savvy
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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When you pit a small agency against a large agency, or against a holding group, there is an obvious advantage that the small agency cannot overcome: resources. We're not talking resources when it comes to creativity or team makeup, though at times that can be daunting; we are aiming more at organization. Bigger shops and holding groups can have departments for human resources, finance, agency operations, and the works. There are people who work at agencies and have never worked on a campaign in their life. There are others whose only role in the campaign is to watch the receipts. A 10-person shop doesn't have that luxury. That shop has the decision to either attempt doing the books and numbers in-house, therefore adding another layer to the job, or incur another expense and farm it out to an outside party.

We talked with a colleague who has a son in the small agency business, and the son is in the business operations capacity in a small, 15-person shop in the Northeast. He relayed how the man in charge of the shop — the creative director — always has to be pulled away from the creative sessions and campaigns for his son to tell him that the spending the shop is doing isn't sustainable. 

Yes, it is not unusual for the business ops guy to be the Debby Downer.

But herein lies the problem with small agencies. Because the team is so streamlined, small shops, more often than not, rely on the chief executive and one (hopefully) business ops person to make the decisions in order to keep the shop afloat. In our friend's situation, the business ops guy constantly tugs on the creative director's ear to tell him that they need more accounts. The shop itself is pretty much surviving on a month-to-month basis.

Again, that is not unusual.

We don't hide the fact that we are small-agency advocates. We think that small agencies will eventually topple these holding giants because of their ability to be agile, and to be more unconventional due to the lack of "red tape." However, we see the need for more business-savvy people in small agencies. These shops cannot survive unless they invest in people and partners who will "mind the store" as we creatives and account folks do the things we do best. Only then can small agencies can start to chip away at the advantage that bigger shops and holding companies have.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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