5 Things that Give Independent Agencies a Competitive Edge (from the Experts)

Independent agencies pride themselves on being different. This point of difference is often what prompts the world’s leading brands to turn to them for creative and strategic expertise.

Despite the familiar obstacles of smaller budgets and fewer resources, indies have a lot of advantages over networked agencies.

At our latest Indie Roadshow event in New York, our panel of experts from independent agencies shared their insights into what this is.

Here’s what they had to say.

1. Flexibility

Every business knows the value that lies in being flexible. It means leaving room for change and innovation, as and when the need arises.

For agencies, being able to adapt to the consumers they’re targeting at any given time is even more crucial, as consumer, market and industry trends continue to move faster.

“The best thing about working in an independent agency is there’s no red tape”, says Matt Klein, VP at Elite Marketing Group. “If I want changes made, I have one boss, I put my ideas in front of him and we decide how to move forward, versus a long process and having to stay in your lane.”

2. Creativity

Where does the best creative work come from? This is a common question for agencies as teams juggle several projects at once, consistently looking for the right story to tell with the most revealing insight.

But often, the best creativity comes from unlikely places. For Dominic Poynter, Group Communications Strategy Director at Droga5, this has nothing to do with how much resource you have at your disposal.

“Independent agencies are usually smaller and have fewer resources”, he says. “This can be a big advantage as it gives you more clarity of thought and encourages you to be more resourceful in how you think about developing insights and communicating as a team.

That kind of close-knit teamwork and having to be scrappy and creative in your process often leads to better results. Most of us will agree some of the best campaigns we’ve worked on are the ones with the smallest budgets which echoes this thought; the less you have, the more creative you get.”

3. Relationship-building

Winning and retaining new business is all about building relationships. For big agencies working with clients of all kinds across several different categories, this can be a struggle.

For independent agencies that are that bit smaller and more nimble, a key advantage for clients is the ability to work more face-to-face with the same people, offering that one-to-one approach they can’t always find.

“Business becomes more personal at an independent level”, says Helene Dick, Strategy Director at Barton F. Graf. “It becomes about the relationship with that client and that business. You get a different type of relationship, because you can make choices you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”

“Business becomes more personal at an independent level.”

4. Passion

Every agency cares about growth – something that can only be achieved through nurturing and expanding your client base. But how much it means isn’t always the same.

For most independent agencies, it’s not about the biggest clients, it’s about all clients.

Their success isn’t just driven by need or a sense of duty, there’s a personal desire that plays an innate role in how they grow.

“With independent agencies, there’s the hunger factor, the passion”, says Matt. “We fight, claw and scratch for every piece of business we get. We value our clients to another level because we know we need to develop and grow that relationship and keep that business.”

5. The personal touch

Data and research is where most great ideas are born, but it doesn’t always start there. Often, data is used to prove or disprove our creative hunches, which can come from anywhere.

For most independent agencies, spending time with and listening to the clients is an essential step – not only for building that all-important relationship, but as a source of inspiration.

“Someone will say something to you at some point which is fantastically interesting”, says Dominic. “Our job is often to listen for that, take it and marry it with something else like a data point or an insight. I think that’s where the personal touch plays a big role in building that relationship with clients.”

Indie Agency Q&A

1. Describe your ideal client.

“Our agency prides itself in being able to find really good clients to partner with and doing incredibly good breakthrough work in categories you wouldn’t always see as “ideal”. I don’t think ideal candidates and categories really exist. Any client can be ideal once you have a good business problem to solve and an interesting creative opportunity.”

  • Dominic Poynter, Group Communications Strategy Director at Droga5

2. Why is data and insight so crucial to success?

“To get to those unique insights, you really need to do the hard, groundwork to back up your hypotheses a million different ways. For Welch’s grape juice, for example, our target was Gen X men. There are millions of articles online about how millennials and Gen Z use the internet, but there about three on how Gen X do it. So to craft a media plan and figure out where we should place our message, we needed answers to where these guys were – reliable data and insight was the key to uncovering that.”

  • Helene Dick, Strategy Director at Barton F. Graf

3. Do consultancies pose a threat?

“Consultancies make money by finding a solution in an industry category, cookie-cutting an approach and selling it to different companies. That is fundamentally in opposition to how creativity and marketing works. One of the things we pride ourselves on in marketing is treating every business problem we encounter as a unique problem and something that needs to be approached with a unique solution. I don’t think consultancies work in the same way, so I don’t see them as a threat.”

  • Dominic Poynter, Group Communications Strategy Director at Droga5

4. Who are your favorite clients?

“I like clients with real problems – real, sticky business problems that need to be figured out and solved. Those are the clients who’ll be honest and willing to take ambitious, big, bold maneuvers. Those are the clients we tend to attract – those looking for that data, that insight or that avenue that hasn’t been brought to them yet.”

  • Helene Dick, Strategy Director at Barton F. Graf

Looking to the future

2019 is a year of opportunity for the indie agency. As brands continue to move core skills and expertise in-house, agencies are taking on more specialist roles.

For independent agencies offering more flexibility, drive, creative license and one-to-one solutions, built on the right foundation of research and insight, the possibilities are endless.

Make your agency stand out and prove you’re the experts on your audience.