Let’s hear it for the little people

Last week I met up with an old friend of mine who works for a very big bank.

We worked together for a couple of years on a community education project. He  represented the Corporate Social Responsibility department of his organisation, and I was the Marketing Director of the charity they were supporting.

We were able to achieve some very big and exciting things that are still making a difference.

Over our pints, we both agreed that the most difficult part of working together had been managing big PR agencies, with big clients and big fees. It wasn’t the fees we found difficult, or the clients (one of us was pretty big ourselves),  it was the feeling of being swallowed up into a huge machine churning out multiple campaigns – all of which looked strikingly similar.

Even more frustrating was that in both our fields well-known and big billing agencies were always perceived as the best, despite the fact that the smaller ones seemed to provide a much more personal service for your money.

Sitting round the board room table in big, trendy PR companies, with Brit Art bursting out of the woodwork and fridges full of Perrier,  we smiled with clenched teeth as we were told all the wrong things about our individual organisations (how hard can it be to read a website?), were given off-the-peg powerpoint presentations and were asked questions about our target audiences that we had already answered in the brief.

Then just as they began to get it Tristan or Edwina got promoted (only the big charities get senior account handlers) and we had to start all over again.

Luckily, some big agencies seem to have moved on. One PR company  has won award after award because  the senior people get their hands dirty, they provide continuity of account handling and they listen to what clients have  to say, without assuming things – no matter what kind of business they’re dealing with.

As we laughed about our experiences my friend and I agreed it was hardly surprising that we were both sole traders, these days, working with small agencies rather than big ones.

It’s not just PR where small is beautiful, the attention and value you get from small marketing agencies, design companies and freelance copywriters is something you won’t experience so regularly with the big boys.

There’s nothing more valuable than dealing with someone you know you’re going to have an ongoing relationship with, who takes the time to understand you and get under the skin of your organisation, and who isn’t having to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to fit everyone in.

If you’re one of those charities competing for that tiny pot of funding, a company with a unique and complex service or simply someone who likes the personal touch, don’t forget the small and medium providers out there.

After all, if you want to stand out from the crowd it helps if you’re not promoted by one.




About Philippa

Philippa Cowley-Thwaites is a no-nonsense South Londoner with a passion for communications. Since graduating in English from London University in 1983 she has established herself as an expert communicator for a variety of brands in the private, public and voluntary sector with great success – she’s one of the best business writers in the business.

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