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Small Agencies Plan Strategies

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Small shops find themselves working harder and smarter to stay competitive as the new-business doldrums drag on and large agencies increasingly target modest accounts.

Executives at 15-person Wallwork & Curry, Boston, buffeted of late by client losses and few account gains, chose to sell to Glastonbury, Conn.-based Cronin & Co. [Adweek, July 23].

Combining Wallwork & Curry's healthcare and financial expertise with Cronin's more integrated offering (direct mail, public relations) makes the resulting entity more than the sum of its parts, said Bob Curry, managing director/executive creative director of the shop's Boston operations.

Such a move, of course, is not an option for all small players. Those that wish to stay independent are constantly refining their strategies and experimenting with new tactics.

Above all, "you have to be as aggressive as you can with new-business programs," said David Martino, president of Martino & Binzer, a 20-person shop in Avon, Conn. "There are companies out there spending money; that's not drying up." The challenge for small shops is to maximize their opportunities, Martino said.

Emphasizing the ad-vantages small shops can offer, such as low overhead, quick project turnaround and concentrated daily focus from senior-level staff, is paramount, Martino said.

Flexibility and the willingness to take chances on new niches or geographies are also important, executives said.

Decker, Glastonbury, Conn., a shop with some 25 employees, responded to the recession of the early 1990s by expanding its geographic reach, which it continues to do today. "We're going after brands that larger agencies might go after," rather than focus solely on local clients, said CEO Craig Cheyne. A prime example is Quorn Foods, a European frozen food concern, which after using Decker for projects recently tapped the shop for an expanded national campaign.

At BBL Communications, a 15-person shop in Acton, Mass., known for its technology prowess, executives have begun pursuing consumer accounts. "Our mode of survival is diversification," said BBL president Barbara Sabran.

And virtually all executives agree that guarding their current client base from poachers takes on added significance in hard times. "When you take care of what you have first, you retain them," said Bill Maier, president of Maier Marketing & Communications, Farmington, Conn.