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June 1, 2005
Does Size Matter?

The last generation that took jobs based more on providing for their families than finding personal fulfillment was the Greatest Generation. You know? The one Tom Brokaw keeps writing books about? (They’re always prominently displayed in airport gift shops as you run by to catch a plane.) Seems like every generation since Tom’s has been just as hell bent on enjoying what they do as making a decent living at it.

Since you’re visiting this website, I’m going to assume that what you enjoy doing, what gives you a great sense of purpose in life, is making ads. I’m not throwing stones here. I enjoy what I do, too. I mean, who wants a job completing people’s tax returns when you can craft ads that are not considered intrusions, but pleasant diversions and maybe even convincing arguments for perfectly good products. If you’re lucky, you can even get an award for your efforts.

Of course, you might not enjoy what you’re doing so much if you don’t enjoy where you’re doing it. If it’s ads you’re making, work at a place that manufactures good ones. People in advertising take less money to go to a place that does better work all the time. What might be a bit more difficult to figure out is whether to work at a small place or a big place. Assuming they’re both good places.

Now, I’m going to define small as 40 people and big as 400 people. I’ve worked at agencies that fall into both categories. (There may be places out there with 4,000 people, but I figure a place that huge just functions like a conglomeration of ten 400 people places.) Here are a few differences between small good places and big good places, as I’ve experienced them.

SMALL PLACE CLIENTS: They’re likely to be smaller too. Which in many ways is a good thing. Fewer layers to get through. And the sooner you can get to the person at the top of the organizational chart, the fewer hits your ad will take.
BIG PLACE CLIENTS: You may never get to the man or woman in charge. And that’s a shame, because they tend to be pretty smart or they wouldn’t be at the top of the chart to begin with.

SMALL PLACE BUDGETS: Fact of life…you might not be shooting your precious gem with David Fincher. Unless it’s truly a gem, in which case some high-priced people will take it on simply because they like it.
BIG PLACE BUDGETS: Now maybe you can afford David Fincher. Of course, he still has to like the idea. Careful here. Don’t become so seduced by a big budget that execution takes the place of an idea. The only thing worse is throwing a lot of money at a bad idea.

SMALL PLACE VISIBILITY: Okay, your ad at this shop may not be running on network tv, much less the Super Bowl. If you want your peers to see it, better get in The One Show. If you want your parents to see it, send them a tape.
BIG PLACE VISIBILITY: At this shop your clients spend money and they want to be on the Super Bowl. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. Everybody’s gonna see your spot, so again, it better be good enough to get in The One Show.

SMALL PLACE RESOURCES: You’ll be doing your own comp here. Not to mention sending faxes and loading copy paper. There aren’t going to be legions of people around whose job it is to provide backup. If you’re young, that’s not all bad. You’ll get a taste of different sides of the business. You know. Pay your dues. Earn your stripes. If you’ve been in the business a while, you may prefer the backup.
BIG PLACE RESOURCES: Don’t worry about negotiating usage rights for that photograph. You’ll have art buyers for that.

SMALL PLACE FRATERNIZATION: The entire creative department goes out for lunch together every day. Usually the same place around the corner.
BIG PLACE FRATERNIZATION: The entire creative department goes out for lunch together once or twice a year. So many people are there, you wind up talking to the same people you usually work with anyway.

SMALL PLACE XMAS PARTY: All 40 of you will climb on a bus equipped with a keg, check out the tacky lights around town and wind up at a bowling alley somewhere. Or do something else just as cost-effective.
BIG PLACE XMAS PARTY: Semi-formal at a nice hotel. Open bar. Good eats. (Side note. When was the last time you wore a tie? Clients don’t even wear ties any more. Do people still wear ties at The Richards Group? I kind of miss wearing one now and then.)

So that’s just a few differences between big and small places, and as you can see, it’s by no means an open and shut case. There’s good and bad about small. There’s good and bad about big. And, the truth is, there are a few big agencies out there that have some of the nice qualities of small ones. (I’m fortunate to work at one now.) It really depends on you. Do you like crowds? Are you anti-social? Do you scratch and claw for good assignments or do you wait for them to come to you? And, most importantly, do you like to go bowling? Just a few things to consider, before you decide where you want to find fulfillment making those great ads of yours.

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Rob Schapiro is a Creative Director at the Martin Agency in Richmond. He grew up at the Richards Group in Dallas. Rob has won many national and international advertising awards and has taught copywriting at SMU in Dallas and VCU in Richmond. He has five children, which is not unlike managing a creative department at a small agency. http://www.martinagency.com
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