I worked for three Midwest agencies over a period of ten years. There was always THAT client. The one who thought that their business deserved to be handled by only the best. By "the best," they meant an overpriced, management-heavy organization where the average hourly rate is north of $250 per hour. To add insult to injury, sometimes our OWN agency would call in the "big guys." Talk about selling yourself short, and transmitting the message to the client that you really can't handle the business.
Here are some scenarios under which big agencies have been brought in to save the day. Any of these sound familiar?
- There is a perception by the client that Midwest agencies have no national media connections: The reality: There are many reputable agencies in medium and small markets. I worked on a multi-agency team for a large cell phone provider and our number-one PR performer year after year was a boutique Omaha agency. This team routinely kicked larger agencies to the curb in number of stories placed. Their secret? Good old shoe leather. They just picked up the phone and started dialing.
- The pressure to "get some big hits" is coming from higher pay grades. The board is upset that the CEO's latest speech to the noon Rotary did not get covered by the local business reporter, so they want to push it up the ladder and get the Wall Street Journal to take a look at it. (!!!) This is a losing battle. Let the big New York agency give it a try. It's Mission Impossible. But remember, you might possibly still be blamed. (Tip: NEVER recommend the big fancy agency. Let them pick their own fat cat.)
- Mistaken perception by the client that their stories are newsworthy: This is the number one existential problem between PR people and their clients. The client thinks his initiative is newsworthy and in an ego-driven frenzy, are desperately seeking attention. They think that it's YOUR (the small to mid-sized Midwestern agency) fault. It's hard to tell clients they don't have a story or need to work on their story. But it's your job. The smaller agency will bill you a lot less to tell the client the truth.
- The "you get what you pay for" syndrome: Speaking of money, it is not unusual for agencies on the coasts, especially old-school Madison Ave types, to charge up to five times more for the same work you could get a in a smaller Midwest market like Des Moines, Minneapolis or Kansas City. The only time this may be advisable is when you're planning a high-profile event in New York City, LA or another city you're not familiar with.
- Beware the Shark! Large agencies live and die by their client roster. In good years, they can afford to say no to business that medium-sized would kill for. In bad years, large agency wins are few and far between, so they may come after smaller fish.
- Unceremoniously dumped! Large agencies think absolutely nothing of dumping a client when they can go after a bigger, more prestigious one. Worse yet, they may pass your business down the food chain until an intern is running the entire account. Wouldn't you rather have the business being competently run by a seasoned account manager, and closer to home?
Working with an agency that's closer to home, and run by people who may understand your business better. Sounds like a good strategy to me. Sometimes, you need the big guns, but for most PR assignments, the home team works just fine.