Never mind the size, what about the quality…

When considering which PR agency to appoint there are a few obvious factors to consider, from whether you have any chemistry with the people there, to the type of work the agency has expertise in. But does it matter what size the agency is? After experiencing life as an online editor at a leading tabloid for six months, Jeremy Walters, independent PR consultant, is adamant that small is best.

Walters explains his time as a journalist allowed him to experience PROs selling to him for the first time, and he was shocked at the ineptitude of those working for larger consultancies: “What became abundantly clear to me was that the mature PROs (particularly those in their 40s and 50s) were excellent. These individuals typically had their own small boutique PR operations. They usually didn’t have the larger brands, but middle-tier to smaller brands. What was shocking was that the big agencies with the big accounts put inexperienced juniors on them. The level of expertise, knowledge and professionalism was shocking. In fact the big agencies, to a man, were crap.”

It is time for the bigger brands to be brave enough to appoint small PR agencies, reckons Walters: “They’d get a much better service and better results. However, just like no one got fired for appointing IBM I’m sure no one got fired for appointing Freud. I think it’s a question of cohones, or in the English language, balls.”

Of course, those working for larger firms beg to disagree. David Gallagher, CEO of Ketchum Pleon London and president of Ketchum Pleon Europe, thinks that agency size is irrelevant, it is ability that counts, something that is certainly not lacking in larger firms. Gallagher says: “The world has moved on since anyone was seriously debating large versus small, and there are far more pertinent questions facing consultancies of all sizes than the size of their navels.”

Gallagher believes that larger consultancies have learnt some hard lessons from their smaller competitors, and as a result they’ve become more nimble, more service-orientated and more focused on motivating and retaining their people. To be fair to the smaller agencies, he adds that these have adopted better business management models from the bigger agencies, formed partnerships and alliances to offer greater scope and reach, and have become less dependent on the personalities of founders.

The most important question in Gallagher’s view, is how well a consultancy can collaborate with others to serve the client. Other key questions that should be addressed are: How does the agency attract and keep bright, versatile and committed people? How does it supply a high-quality and consistent level of service, wherever the client needs to be? And how does it manage its business to compete for people, business and investment? Gallagher concludes: “I know plenty of examples of agencies succeeding in all of these areas – some large, some small. But those that fail in any of them, regardless of size, aren’t likely to be around long.”


We asked: Does size matter when it comes to agencies?

Katie Bailey, head of agency operations at consultancy Launch Group:

“Who says bigger is better and smaller is smarter? If, like Goldilocks, you are searching for something not ‘too big’ and not ‘too small’, perhaps a mid-sized agency might be ‘just right’. Agencies of 25 to 50 people can often offer the best of both worlds, with a bespoke and personal service coupled with big agency internal practices and experienced PR practitioners keen to do things differently.”

Andy Turner, founder of agency Six Sigma:

“Think of it like a toolbox: sometimes a great big sledge hammer is what you need and sometimes a precision punch! Many organisations use a mix of large and small consultancies to match their different needs and have done so for years.”

Carole Scott, director at agency Bottle PR:

“There’s no point in choosing a two-person agency if you’re Asda and need a full range of expertise in property, consumer, corporate and financial, as you’re unlikely to find all of these in a small agency. Similarly, there won’t be much to be gained for an entrepreneur working with a global agency, as it is likely to be a tiny account and therefore will sink to the bottom of the to-do list because global clients are screaming for attention while waving expensive contracts.”

Chris Nelson, director at PR agency Trafalgar Public Relations:

“In PR terms, creativity often comes from the individual or core team dealing with an account, although on larger projects it is useful to be able to bounce ideas around a larger group and get some off-the-wall input. Working as a PR consultant I find I can get more work done on a day-to-day basis because there are fewer distractions, and my overheads (and of course fees) are lower – so in terms of hours worked for the clients, they get better value.”

And if this article has made you think about changing jobs to either a larger, or smaller PR agency, there are plenty of PR jobs here!

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