Industry POV

Independents vs networks' what works best in the ad world?

07 Feb 2017

In the ad world, there are two kinds of agencies — first, the boutique and independent kind, and second, those that are part of the top five big agency networks.

In the last few years, there has been consolidation among agencies in India and around the world.

In the ad world, there are two kinds of agencies — first, the boutique and independent kind, and second, those that are part of the top five big agency networks.

In the last few years, there has been consolidation among agencies in India and around the world. Small agencies — digital, creative or outdoor — have been acquired by agency networks, in lieu of offering 360 degree services to clients. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Having spent enough time on either side, this is my attempt to decode which one is more effective — being an independent or leveraging a network.

Let’s start with being independent. As the name suggests, independent agencies have tremendous freedom and enjoy being masters of their own destiny. It is a liberating yet thrilling experience as each day you fight like a warrior to win businesses and beat the big bad network agencies at their own game in the marketplace. It comes with its own stress but is an extremely satisfying journey as whatever you win is your bread and there is no sharing of either credit or revenues. So even if you win a small piece of a huge pie, it still feels big and satisfying.

One of the challenges of being an independent agency is that sometimes we get too myopic in our views of ourselves and our agency. We get too comfortable with our ways of working and refuse to be dynamic; that leads to independent agencies fading out and not innovating enough. The same is possible in a network as well but a network agency is constantly pushed and pulled from external forces like its regional teams and global mandates. Therefore, it is less likely to relax as the pressure for meeting budgets as well as meeting global alignment to overall agency strategy is immense. The other challenge of being an independent is the access to large global clients and their pitches, which usually end up with network agencies.

On the other hand, being in a network (varying from network to network) can be intimidating as there are many agencies along with global mandates and regional mandates. But you get to learn from their experiences, share knowledge, gain insight on the macro aspects of advertising and the entire ecosystem. The global HR and IT policies, though stringent at times, help in building a strong foundation and a structured company that scales with newer opportunities. What also comes as a big plus through a global network is an opportunity to pitch and participate in some of the largest brand pitches and also an ability to learn from the global network.

The big question to ask at this point is, which side is greener? The answer is not an easy one. The answer lies in what stage of growth your agency is at. To stay independent or get acquired should completely depend on only two factors. The first one is scalability and the second, vision. You need to figure how fast can you grow your independent agency on your own and for how long? And then, what’s your vision for your agency? Do you see yourself as a boutique but an effective small fish in the agency world or do you have ambitions to be large, competitive and scaled? The answer to this will play a vital role in helping you decode which side to select.

On the whole, whether you are an independent or part of a network completely depends on where your agency is in its lifecycle. If it’s a boutique and wants to stay a boutique, then being independent might be the best thing for you as you can win your own bread and be happy in your own world. But if scale is your game and you would like to explore working with the best global brands, then an agency network might be a better choice.

The author, Rajiv Dingra, is founder & CEO, WATConsult

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