Why Big Brands Should Use a Boutique Marketing Agency

By Wednesday August 28th, 2013

Are you a big brand weighing the value of working with a smaller agency? Learn how the boutique agency can help you reach your goals, reenergize your brand and do it all while maximizing your effort and budget.

Big brands have traditionally looked to big agencies for their media and advertising needs. But should big brands consider meeting their needs by shifting to smaller, boutique agencies? The answer is absolutely, and here are a few points to consider if you are a big brand.

Rigidity versus flexibility

Simply put, big agencies are big bureaucracies. Like most bureaucracies, big agencies suffer from complexity, inefficiency and inflexibility. For years, big agencies have built their credibility by way of time-tested project management methodologies and reputation. The reality today, however, is that the world is not time-tested but ever evolving. The media landscape has become highly technical, innovation moves at the speed of light and reputation alone is not strong enough to keep customers satisfied.

The big agency sees itself as the fittest. The full-service giant who guarantees accomplishment because they can, and because they have. But in truth, it is the boutique agencies and their sense of reverse darwinism which is pushing them to become better equipped to evolve beyond the shadows cast by their big agency rivals. Boutique agencies do not have a choice.  They do not stand on reputation but rather an ongoing process of building reputation.

What does working with a boutique agency mean for big brands? It means working with an agency who consistently adapts their project management methodology to fit the needs for each specific project or client. It means working with an agency who works hard to stay ahead of innovation, who maximizes their resources and actually listens to what you need versus telling you what their time-tested methodologies have proven.

Big agencies are rigid. Boutique agencies are flexible. Unfortunately for the big agency, this is something which they cannot be faulted for.  It is simply a new darwinism, and they are no longer the fittest.

Size matters (it is not exactly what you think)

The Omnicom Group is a global media megastructure for all intents and purposes. Omnicom’s agency network includes the likes of TBWA Worldwide, BBDO and Fleishman-Hillard, to name a few. Omnicom’s agencies are the GEs and the Coca-Colas of the media word.  So it would make sense for a GE or a Coca-Cola to turn to one of these mega-sized media agencies, right ? Perhaps, if size is what matters.

Omnicom employs over 70,000 people. If you are a big brand you might be thinking that working with a big agency has all the advantages size seems to present. To you, size may translate to inhouse personnel or a strong bench of professionals to cater to your needs.  Size may represent power, luxury and a guarantee of efficiency. This is not always true.

Think about it from this perspective. If a single big agency has 150 people on staff, this does not mean that your project will have 150 people working on it. It may have 20. In my opinion, if you are a big brand with a fear of depth, or not working with a team that is entirely housed under one roof, now is the time to get over it.

If a boutique agency is only made up of 20 people, often times the number of hands on deck are similar in numbers to working with a big agency. The difference, however, is what these individuals are expected to bring to the table.  A big agency, or any large organization for that matter, tends to silo individuals into specific tasks. Big agency people are designated cogs in a large assembly line. Considering your brand is likely very different from another brand in an agency’s portfolio, why would you ever place your brand on an assembly line?

Smaller agencies tend to have fearless leaders. They tend to be founded by people who have years of big agency experience and have decided to compete with the big agency model. They compete because they know how to deliver big agency products under boutique agency circumstances. Typically, these fearless leaders tend to surround themselves with other highly skilled and fearless people. The results are often a team of people who are tenacious, willing to cross disciplines and are rarely siloed to one task. For your big brand, this means a group of folks who are naturally more collaborative, lend fresh perspectives and are “do or die” when it comes to achieving goals.

Big agencies are rigid. Boutique agencies are flexible.

Next, big agencies have massive overhead! Having an entire team inhouse means someone has to to pay for this overhead. Typically, this cost is passed on to the client. So this leads to the next question.  Should big brands be skeptical of smaller agencies that outsource? In my opinion, it should not be an issue.

A smaller agency is constantly building its reputation and understands that it needs to hold its partners and external vendors to the same standards. Most agencies working with outside vendors have been working with them for years and when working with new vendors, they do their diligence. In a highly connected world, smaller agencies are competently able to collaborate with external firms to complete a project. As a big brand, your benefits include niche experts coming together to provide a top notch service at a cost which is almost always highly competitive.

Our firm Brolik consists of ten full time team members. This includes principals and management.  Although our leadership is clear, our hierarchy is basically flat. This is a result of being small, and as I mentioned earlier, we are a tenacious and collaborative team. Ideas flow democratically and we function as a unit, as if we are Spartans.  I have seen the same trend with regards to size and collaboration in our small agency competition. I find it refreshing, and this leads to my next point.

Subject matter expertise

Although big agencies see the opportunity in modernizing their product offerings from traditional media, their progress has been slow and often shaky. Big agencies, for the most part, have little trouble hiring talent. If a big agency sees an opportunity in digital, whether it be digital strategy, social media, digital advertising or the likes, they are completely capable of adding good talent to their organizations. The challenge that big agencies face with new product offerings, shifting direction or adding new divisions is often a logistical one. At the end of the day, larger enterprises are governed by their boards, investors and executive or upper level managers, all primarily focused on revenues and operational issues. It is easy for a company with a trunk full of legacy products to remain chained and manacled to existing revenue streams, stifling creative and strategic growth.

This does not mean that boutique agencies operate without a management structure. Small agencies are real businesses with real revenues. Revenues and operational stability are necessary but can come without a lot of the red tape. For example, our firm Brolik has been a leader in responsive web design for years. It is a process we standardized before the industry started moving in this direction. Recently, we have used our experience in web design and optimization to add digital strategy as a product offering. Both solutions work well together or as a stand alone. The point is that making this shift evolved from experience and opportunity and is something we were able to produce in a short amount of time; all while having management efficiently assess how it impacts our clients and our operational health.

I see other small firms, just in our own city of Philadelphia, doing the same. Stuzo started several years ago as a textbook exchange at Drexel University and is now focused on social and community based marketing. They are one of the first seven companies to be selected by Facebook as a Preferred Developer Consultant. Another company, 50onRed was created as a division of Leadnomics and applies its experience from its parent company in lead generation to provide audience engagement and monetization marketing solutions.

Boutique agencies not only thrive on niche market solutions as a differentiator, they count on it to engage larger brands. For big brands, smaller shops offer a fresh breath of air; we tend to offer you what we are best at rather than a line of “full service” solutions, ultimately selling you only what you need. Lastly, we pride ourselves on producing the best products and the best teams for our specific services. This is what makes us subject matter experts, and the importance of being just that is not only how we offer big brands the best solutions, it is how we justify our existence.


When I took my first job after college my dad offered up some fatherly advice. He told me that if a person cannot complete a task in a given amount of time, that the person is either inefficient or in the wrong job. I would soon discover that my father’s quip alluded to passion. Passion is about taking pride in what you do and taking pride in being good at what you do.

Several years and two corporate jobs later I became an entrepreneur. I was once told that passion and entrepreneurship are one of nature’s finest pairs. How could that be? I mean, I was passionate about my work before I became an entrepreneur. How would my passion change? I found that the answer to this question was in the numbers.

The smallest corporation I have ever worked for employed 7,000 people. When I started my first company we were just two people. At a large corporation there were Monday mornings where some of us were excited to produce, while some of us were simply beginning a countdown to the weekend. I always noticed it, but I never let it get in my way.

I recently hung up my entrepreneurial hat. Being an entrepreneur was one of the most rewarding and trying times in my life. But through it all I was always full of passion and I believe it had everything to do with the fact that our business was always a very small team. Today, I am back to working for a company. But unlike the companies I worked for several years ago, there are only ten of us.

A small company has no room for the Monday blues. Everyone is expected to give 110 percent. Passion roars through our hallways and weaves its way around the office, forcing us all to remain deeply connected. Most importantly, passion is what keeps us standing strong during our most challenging days. A small team feels every nook, bump and curve in the road and they feel it together. Our passion is our compass. Our passion is how we control our destiny.

I want to be clear. I am not saying that big companies, or in this case big agencies, lack passion. What I am saying is that they simply cannot produce passion the way a boutique agency can. This is a result of human nature. Big company employees have a tendency to advance as individuals. Smaller company employees churn to keep an entire organization afloat. And in the end, this is the intangible difference in what you, the big brand, ends up buying.

If you are a big brand and you are reading this, still clinging onto the big agency model, there is tremendous amount of value in assessing the potential that comes with a boutique agency. As a final thought I leave you with a quote from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”


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About the Author

As Director of Client Relations, Jameel leads Brolik’s team efforts towards fostering new client relationships while keeping current clients happy. Jameel comes from a strong background in media sales and brand development, having worked with some of the world’s largest brands including Airbus, Eli Lilly, Heinz and Verizon. In addition to his love of media, Jameel shares an equal passion for philanthropy, education and music. He is a member on the Board of Advisors to the Kupona Foundation, a not for profit focused on maternal healthcare in Tanzania, and teaches New Media Marketing at Drexel University’s Lebow College of Business.