Ways small ad agencies can execute like big ones in business development

Another new biz guru, Hank Blank, wrote a post on his site about how small and smart is the new agency model. Definitely worth a read.

It got me thinking a bit more about small agencies and one of their main challenges in a new business pitch: convincing a larger client that they can execute all the brilliant thinking that the agency proposes. This can be particularly difficult pitching brands with multiple locations (retail, hospitality, some services, etc.)

It’s so easy for “the alphabets” (big, fat global agencies) to say they can execute because of their huge footprints.

How does a small agency compete in this kind of situation? Two quick thought-starters…

Thought #1: Explore the association models out there. Here, I’m talking about groups like AMIN, Magnet, TAAN, etc. Ad agency social guru Michael Gass pulled together a nice list here. Most of these guys have a sharing element to their model, where one member agency can leverage the location and manpower of another member’s footprint.

(Couldn’t the 4As even get into this? But I digress.)

Thought #2: Look to the agency supplier network. There are many, many kinds of businesses out there that serve multiple-unit locations. They execute. Like you, they are seeking ways to grow. And, best of all, you may even compliment each other.

Lots of other ways to skin ye olde cat here, but I think you’re getting the idea. The key, of course, will be proving this out. Don’t just spin the elaborate tale in a new business situation. You must have demonstrable proof that your agency has done this. And that it has worked!

What, you say you don’t have this?! You can get there with time. Set it up now and activate it with an existing client or two. This gives you a story to tell next time this situation comes up.

Heck, find the right partner, and you might even find a meeting or two with a brand on their client list that could use your services. But I digress…!

Hope this gets you thinking a bit. As always, feel free to gimme a shout or comment below with any thoughts. Thanks!


P.S. Looking for more small agency talk on this site? Here’s something about how small agencies can prospect compared to the big guys.


  1. Do you do consulting for small businesses?


    Mike Malina
    VP of Operations

  2. One of the most overlooked ways a small agency can appear more competitive is by keeping a stable of freelance creatives. Many of us began life in large, powerful ad agencies and chose freelancing for work-life balance. Many award-winning freelancers have formed informal writer-design-coding teams, and bring experience in just about every industry.

    The right individuals or teams can make themselves available to a small agency, dedicated to either service an existing account or help win a new one. Because they’re “on call” they don’t cost as much as a full-time, on-site employee, and their rates are often negotiable to allow the agency a nice profit.

  3. Steve Congdon says:

    Terrific point, Sara! Their experience and talents could be just the thing an agency needs to win. I wonder if there couldn’t be some sort of arrangement that could be made to bridge the gap between freelance and full-timer, so that “on call” can provide additional benefits to both parties. Guaranteed access? Additional marketing rights? Etc.