It may sound crude, but the old adage ‘it’s not the size that matters, but what you do with it’, has never been more true, especially in PR. Big agencies have ruled the roost for quite some time, but as the allure of fancy pitches, big name clients and swanky city offices wears off, clients are willing to consider what smaller boutique agencies have to offer.

Having worked for one of Australia’s largest agencies, done my time in-house, and established my very own small but perfectly formed agency, it’s a trend I can’t help but notice.

In my past life as an account director the drill for winning new business was simple. The call would come through from a prospective client, the brief would be provided, we’d roll out the big guns – usually the managing director (who they would never see again) – on pitch day to present the proposal and keep our fingers crossed.

It’s a formula which is tried and tested across the globe, and for the main part one that works very well. But it is also an approach which can leave a new client a little disillusioned when it turns out that the highly-experienced, highly-skilled team they met in the pitch aren’t the team they get.

Choosing a PR agency is a minefield. There are many factors to weigh up. Big agencies boast blue chip clients, offer the comfort of being more established, have the international networks and the awards cabinet to boot. In fact, hiring a big agency can be a safe choice, but not always the right one.

When looking for a PR agency, it’s good to consider all options. The primary concern should be finding an agency that suits a company’s needs, not one that fulfilled the needs of a household name five years ago. When compiling a shortlist, I recommend including one or two smaller operators who may well be able to provide all the creativity, passion and experience required.

A small agency may only have five members of staff, but their experience may far out weigh the experience of the account executives likely to take care of the day-to-day running of an account in a larger agency.

The web is a useful tool but be warned: websites may look impressive but in some cases the agency and client could have parted many months, if not years, ago. In big agencies, new accounts are won and lost almost every week, which makes confirming if those clients are still on the books even more important.

As in all business, money matters. And in this respect smaller agencies have the upper hand. On the whole, smaller agencies have smaller overheads. This is one major advantage of taking the ‘boutique route’. Large office space, software licenses, database costs, staff training costs and recruitment fees are not a factor, which means these expenses aren’t passed onto the client.

For me, the main advantage of choosing a smaller agency is that what you see is what you get. The person or people you meet at the pitch are more likely to be working on your account. Importantly, this means the client benefits from a team’s experience straight away and is not paying for more junior members to ‘get up to speed’.

So, if you feel your agency just doesn’t care about your business, isn’t proactive enough in suggesting new ideas or you get the feeling they have bigger clients who are more important to them, a smaller agency might just be the ticket.

Irrespective of whether the agency is large or small, it’s important for the client to do their homework and seek references from past and current clients to ensure that the relationship with their chosen PR agency is a long and successful one.

Jocelyn Hunter
BY Jocelyn Hunter ON 11 January 2012
Jocelyn is founder and managing director of BENCH PR, a Melbourne PR consultancy specialising in the B2B and technology markets. Jocelyn has over 17 years experience in PR, spanning big brands to small start-ups and strong international experience, having worked for some of the most awarded agencies in the UK and Australia.
  • InsideOut

    The benefits of choosing a Boutique Public Relations Agency

    When your business is ready to begin a public relations campaign with a public relations agency, there’s a few things you need to consider to ensure your needs are met. Public Relations agencies come in all shapes and sizes – some specialise in particular industries and are made up of hundreds of people on a global or national level, and others are localised and small, comprising of only a handful of staff. The nature and needs of your business will determine the best type of PR agency for you and remember size doesn’t always matter! Often people discount smaller boutique public relations agencies, believing larger companies are better simply due to the amount of staff they employ.

    The following points should be considered when making your decision.

    How much contact do you want with the CEO or managing director?
    Boutique Public Relations agencies are run by the CEO or managing director who have a hands-on role in the business, managing their own clients as well as staff and other aspects of the business. Senior managers often run larger PR agencies, while the actual CEO is almost impossible to get in contact with should you have a problem or issue with your campaign.

    How much do you want to spend?
    The big firms are obviously going to cost you more – but what are you really paying for? If your budget isn’t that large, chances are in a bigger firm, you’re going to be lumped with a junior account manager rather than a senior, more experienced practitioner. Of course if you have the big $ this won’t be an issue but be sure to find out exactly where your money is going. Boutique PR agencies are also more flexible with monthly retainer fees and will almost always try to work to your budget.

    Do you want regular contact with your account manager?
    If you want to be kept up-to-date regularly on the success of your PR campaign, it’s important to set this up at the beginning and ensure staff working on your account are able to fit this in. Often in big companies the personal touch is lost due to the amount of clients the PR practitioner has. Boutique PR agencies usually have one person working on the account, which means you only have one point of contact to worry about.

    Benefits of a boutique PR agency:
    – Easy access to the CEO or managing director
    – You work directly with a team of hand-picked PR professionals that report directly to the owner of the business
    – Boutique agencies generally charge a lot less than large national/global agencies
    – With a boutique agency there’s more of a personal touch as there aren’t as many clients
    Be sure to discuss your concerns with your PR firm before signing on. A good PR agency will always make the time to ensure you’re happy and will be able to answer any questions/concerns you may have.

    -InsideOut PR