Mid Size Agencies vs The Big Boys vs Freelancers

fully-integrated agency with over 20 years of experience(Which one is right for you)

Ok, this is a touchy one…there are a lot of opinions in this arena and what I am about to say may not be considered Biblical Fact, but it certainly cannot be thrown out as junk. Fortunately, I have been on both sides of the fence, and can actually give you a realistic view on this topic. I have also worked for large corporations that use large agencies, and I have worked for small companies that have used small agencies and freelancers…so I am not just blowing dust in the wind here.

First of all, I have respect for all those that provide services, and although my classifications below are generalized, keep in mind that there are those out there that have modified their work model and don’t fit into these groups…for those that adapt, good for you…that’s why you work in the creative industry, but for the most part these are true in our industry.

Freelancers

The whole concept of freelancers was to find these guys that don’t work for a professional agency but have great creative skills. Maybe they are just coming out of art school and looking for a job, so they advertise that they can do your work from home while they are looking or doing another type of work… keeping their skills sharp. The other reason was for smaller companies to find someone that works for an agency, so you get an experienced person for half the price the creative agency would charge you.

PROS

The labor is usually half what a creative agency will charge. You usually get someone fresh and creative that has not been abused by a big advertising agency and still loves what they do. They usually are trying to build their portfolio for bigger and better things, so your work will be some of their best stuff.

CONS

Freelancers usually have another job or school and cannot always adapt to your schedule. Freelancers payment plan is half upfront the other on delivery…no 30day. Freelancers have been known to disappear with your job half way done, resurfacing in a few weeks or never. Freelancers have their limitations, if your job requires different skills, they may have to find someone else to help complete the task. You may have to find an advertising agency later on to clean up the mess and figure out what they did…eliminating the “Great” price you got.

Analysis

A freelancer is right for you if, 1. You are on a budget and you need to get the best price to begin your business. 2. If you can be flexible to the freelancers schedule and wait for them to do the work. 3. If you are prepared to run into situations where you might have to hire additional freelancers to complete a job. 4. If you just have a few jobs here and there that you need completed. 5. You don’t need on going support. 6. BIG NOTE HERE: If the task they are working on will not bring your business to a halt if they disappear.

Mid-Size Agencies

Usually this was a successful freelancer, that realized they had too much work to provide the clients good service and needed to hire help, or they worked for an agency and decided they were too talented to give their life-blood to someone else…so they branched out and started their own business. I consider small creative agency revenues between $500,000-$1.5 Million per year. Since we are talking about Mid-Size advertising agencies between $2 million and $10 million, some of the smaller agencies might fit into these views below.

PROS

You have a dedicated company working with you. You probably have multiple resources at your disposal without having to pay for them until you need them (Web, Video, Photography, Media Buying….etc). This size agency will usually have credit with all vendors so you will get 30 days to pay your bills. These agencies usually have agreements with media already so you can get the benefit of large media buying power even when your part is small. Sometimes these agencies will use the 15% commission on media to reduce your cost on design…so you get a bonus discount. These agencies have more of a personal relationship with you and are willing to sit and listen to your issues to try and help you resolve them. You will have a more personal one on one experience.

BIG NOTE: These size agencies don’t usually have the same “Protocol” that large agencies have to go through, so if you need something done RUSH…these ad agencies and marketing companies will be able to react immediately and worry about all the paperwork later.

CONS

You will pay more than a freelancer but have a 9-5 contact. Along with the freedom of credit, comes the price of credit…smaller agencies will charge you late fees because they don’t have the ability to float your account. You will have 30 days on most services but still have to pay 50% upfront for large ticket items like printing, media, marketing etc. Be prepared to sign all quotes before they begin work…these agencies cannot afford to have you say, “I never asked for that” and not get paid. Make sure the agency has a good tracking system in place…mid size agencies don’t always have the resources to spend on this so they rely on humans to traffic the jobs…if you have a good account manager you are golden. Be prepared to pay for account services and meetings…even though it is not much they have to pay the employees that they pull into the meeting.

Analysis

Mid-Size Agency is right for you if, 1. You need the ability to call and ask for something during work hours and get a response. 2.You have ongoing work and need to have people at your disposal to complete the tasks. 3. You are planning long term advertising goals that require constant tracking and reporting. 4. If you want to receive the agency discounts on media buying. 5. If you want someone in the industry to advise you when promotions and events are right for your business. 6. If you want someone to negotiate great deals for you, remember these guys do this all the time and they know the difference between the value you are told your getting and the real value of what things are worth. 7. If you are planning on getting larger…it’s always nice to start with someone and grow with them. 8. If you are a large company and tired of not getting quick results from anything.

Larger and Gargantuan Agencies

Well these guys are just the big kids on the block, what can you say. A lot of these agencies landed a huge account and had no choice but to go global. Some of them are just wealthy individuals that know someone in high places. And some are wealthy individuals that saw potential in a few talented marketing agencies and bought them all and created one monster. Whatever the case, these are the boys that turn away accounts less than $5million a year and the gargantuan agencies probably won’t even look at you for less than $20million.

PROS

Of course you have more of a global reach. You have the experience of guys making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to come up with good ideas. Most of these large guys have teams of developers and researches that are just looking for the next big thing on the market, so you have the luxury of being the first in line for new marketing programs. Larger agencies mean you have a lot of resources at your fingertips. Larger agencies can usually float your media buys and other outside costs for longer.

BIG NOTE: This size agency can basically do whatever you want, including lasso the moon, as long as you pay for it.

CONS

Larger creative and marketing agencies seem to take longer to get things done. There’s a lot of red tape and approval processes. The cost of doing business is much more and therefore flows down to your pocket in the end. They usually want to do things their way and if you don’t agree you will hear “this is what you pay us for”. You end up with bills that you don’t understand and for things that you feel are incidental. The larger agencies have more to lose so prepare to have a lot of CYA and sign offs for every single thing you change. Standard turn around can be weeks.

Analysis

A Large Agency is right for you if, 1. You have no budget and you just want to be the first at everything out there. 2. Money is no object and you are happy to pay top rate for the services you are getting. 3. You company needs to be out in front of everyone on everything. 4. If you are having multi-national campaigns running in different locations, languages etc. 5. If you need a team of dedicated people just to keep track of all the projects on your plate.

All in all, there is a need and a place for every one of these situations. As a local Miami based mid size creative agency, we have found our niché. We are an full service advertising agency that has found our comfort level with companies that spend between $1-6 Million per year.

We have many clients that spend less than $150K, but we enjoy them and have a good time with their product, so we don’t discriminate and turn away anyone that has a product we feel is a fun project to work on.

We are large enough to play on every level and provide quality service and results, we have our own design team, video production studios, web/website design and development, photography team, printing and distribution, in-house so our charges are flexible and reasonable. We are also small enough that we still have fun and can turn a project around in short notice.

If you would like to visit us in Coconut Grove Florida, please feel free to send an email, especially if you need help or have any questions on what type of agency is best for you. I hope this has provided some answers and shed some light on the world of advertising. The next blog will talk about “Agency Retainers, how they work and are they worth it”.

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