Small agencies with a strong proposition can compete nationally and internationally, say Dieter and Pam Lloyd, Founders and Directors, PamLloyd PR.
Profile: food specialist agency based in Bristol, UK
Insight: clear focus provides discipline, expertise, excellent work and longstanding client relationships
In the dozen years since Facebook launched, we’ve lived through the financial crisis, and the landscape has changed. Agency models, their people, skills and clients have all evolved. They’ve had to.
These changes have brought large, medium and small agencies into closer orbit.
Small agencies have developed a stronger consultancy offering by partnering with providers from other marketing disciplines. Larger agencies have developed low or no frills offers to enable them to compete at lower rates.
Some aspects of being small and sector specific remain, continuing to differentiate small outfits from medium sized generalist and large corporate consultancies.
Flat model, skills agility
Agility is much overused, but agility in a small agency is demanded every day. Despite the changes in the competitive environment, the small agency structure remains flat because it has to. Small agency teams are widely skilled generalists. Everyone is involved in project implementation every day.
Focus on marketing expertise
Making the decision to stay small and sector specific has other advantages. If the business objective is to develop team expertise through continuous learning, rather than growth for its own sake, the specialist agency can disregard projects outside its sector. It keeps the agency proposition simple.
Client acquisition and retention through focus
Agencies have been under pressure to skill up on all things digital. The dominance of online media over print media fighting to keep its place and the power of social channels mean that those who failed to adapt have failed to survive.
There is renewed opportunity for specialists. Prospective clients are uncertain about customers' behaviour and worried about market disrupting competition. They are often reticent about committing to a full campaign. Instead they have demanded ad hoc, project based services from sector specialists delivered using newly acquired skills.
The smaller budgets associated with projects also seem to militate against changing agencies for each project. The investment from both client and agency to understand each other leads to follow up work, shared learning and combined skills development which strengthens the relationship.
The threat to small sector specialists now comes from skills specialists in other marketing disciplines - SEO, design, experiential - all claiming to tell the product or service story like public relations through content creation and dissemination while also offering paid media experience, data analysis and insight. To compete small public relations agencies have had to acquire these skills.
Flat and agile is likely to remain the prevalent small agency model. Partnerships with skills specialists (SEO, research, data science) will also be important to improve the combined competitive offering to clients.
The pressure is now to recruit skills outside media relations. In a specialist agency each team member needs firstly to be enthusiastic about the chosen sector. Traditional public relations skills are still relevant combined with new disciplines which are now equally important.
The desire to learn, the right attitude and organisational ability remain vital. Recent recruits to PamLloyd PR come from recruitment, film making, fashion and the public sector; united by a common love of food.
Our most pressing challenge is talent retention. Small sector specialist agencies are not for everyone.
In the past five years experienced professionals have left our business and exited the profession entirely for one or more of the following reasons – more money, less money, less stress, more stability. The tasks we face are how to retain multi-skilled people and continue to evolve our offer to keep existing clients and attract new ones.