Little Guy vs. Big Guy

I have a rather odd ritual before I go to bed each night. I watch the local news from 11 – 11:30 pm and UFC Cage Fighting from 11:30 – midnight. It’s like drinking warm milk and honey for me but instead of tryptophan – the amino acid found in milk and linked to drowsiness — I rely on blood and raw aggression to calm my nerves.

My favorite match-ups are asymmetric — larger fighters facing off against smaller opponents. I love watching scrappy, wirey guys kick the crap out of men twice their size. Maybe its because I’m not an imposing figure (let’s just say I stand under six feet tall and leave it at that). It could also have something to do with the fact that I work at a small marketing and communications firm. Small when compared to my previous job at an advertising agency with over 600 people in NY and 9,000 people worldwide.

The current economic doldrums got me thinking about smaller agencies and how we’ll fair against our larger opponents in the never ending quest for new business.  It’s a street fight right now and only the agencies with the biggest hearts and the most talent will win. If the tsunami on Wall Street did anything positive, it leveled the playing field in our industry.

At face value, this match-up looks lopsided like the photograph above. Small independent, project-based firms often lack the resources and heft to weather long, recessionary storms. By contrast, large agencies have scale and size (and a few mother-load accounts) on their sides. But that’s not how I see this fight unfolding on streets of Madison Avenue. I see a scrappy fight.

I see small agencies becoming even more innovative, entrepreneurial, and resourceful as they dig deeper into existing client relationships and activate new ones.

I see small agencies aggressively networking — kicking up dust everywhere they go — and showing their staff that with hard work and some old school tactics, they can weather any storm.

I see small agencies going the extra mile for their clients each and every day because they know that the giant lurking around the corner could eat their lunch in the blink of an eye.

As for larger agencies, I don’t think they know what the word, ‘scrappy’ is.

I think they’re frightened and running scared.

I think large agency management doesn’t have a clue how to galvanize talent in bad times (they’re marginally better in good times). Instead they splinter staffers into factions and keep them imbalanced — pushing off the balls of their feet.

I think they write too many memos telling staffers not to worry about the agency’s health and well-being and not enough with ideas, tactics and ammunition to fight the fight each day.

I think they depend on new business consultants to feed them leads and don’t have a clue how to organically generate business when left to their own devices.

I think their day of reckoning has finally come and I would encourage my brethren in the boutique space — digital, mainstream, alternative, what have you — to capitalize on this opportunity and show your clients how amazing your firm is and by comparison, how slow, plodding and lethargic larger agencies can be.

Take a stand now.