Small But Mighty – Highlights from the Ad Age Small Agency Conference

A goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds. Today, the average human has an attention span of 8 seconds (down from 12 seconds in 2000). That’s a fascinating fact that shapes the way we need to think about what we create, but it wasn’t the only takeaway from recently attending the Ad Age Small Agency Conference.

With a solid lineup of speakers and panelists, it’s apparent that great work is coming out of small agencies. From the work that Humanaut is doing for Organic Vally (see Save The Bros   and their “Organic Valley Coffee Shop” campaign to the powerful #CallingAllVoices campaign that Fusion and their agency SS&K created. It makes us really proud being a small agency ourselves.

Here are some highlights from the conference that really stood out:

Three Powerful Statements from “What I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Agency”

José Mollá of lacomunidad had the unenviable task of being the first speaker in the morning at a conference taking place in a city known for its nightlife. However, his fast moving, insightful presentation set the tone for the day. Here are three of his statements that really resonated:

“You’re two accounts away from your best or worst year ever”
There really is a very thin line between success and failure at an agency. It’s frightening and exhilarating at the same time and not for the faint of heart.

“We don’t have enough people”
You will never have “enough” people. No matter what size the agency.

“Agencies without motivation are offices”
Motivation is contagious. Cynicism kills motivation and slowly saps the energy out of an agency. An office may be the place that you come together to do work, but it shouldn’t be the sole place that stimulates motivation. You have to leave it and find the inspiration outside of the four walls. In José’s case, his agency has one of their offices at a house with a pool, so inspiration may strike post-cannonball and hopefully not after seeing your co-worker in a Speedo.

When la comunidad sold to a larger agency, the questions from the staff continued to be “How much?” To address this and have fun with it they created this great video press release:

“Being small is a powerful place to be if you embrace it”

That was said by Amy Cotteleer of A2G  and really resonated. Bigger is not always better and small agencies don’t need to feel inferior because their headcount is less. Being small allows you to be fast, nimble, and experimental – what marketers want today. The key is to embrace it, use it to your advantage, and punch above your weight. In conversations around the conference, many small agencies are wrestling with a similar existential struggle – should they specialize in one area and be spectacular at one thing, or is being good generalists and open to all types of work the continued path forward?

The Flawless Pitch

In a conversation titled “Trust, Transparency and Truth in Agency-Client Relationships”, Martin Davidson, Global Creative Director, Krispy Kreme, gave some insight from the client perspective into some of the things that won their agency the business during the pitch process. Some of the key elements of the pitch was that:

  • It was beautifully designed
  • It was well-written with passion
  • The agency clearly did their homework
  • The people in the room were the people that were going to be working on the business
  • There was no air of arrogance from the team
  • They listened well and asked great questions

Some of these things may seem obvious and I’m sure there was a lot of additional nuance to what helped them win the business, but they are a good reminder of what the client may be thinking about when looking for an agency.

While a lot of the conferences and events in the marketing world are hit or miss, the focus on small agencies made the conference very focused and full of ideas that were very applicable. It wasn’t preachy about smaller being better, or full of people looking for a potential new client, but what it did reinforce is that small is only a mindset, not an indication of the potential power of your work and impact.