Smart people in small shops believe the best ideas come from smart people in small shops.
Today, evidence that this could be true. Wieden + Kennedy is a smallish shop situated in Portland. Recently, they landed accounts from the Coca-Cola Company and P&G. Small may or may not be beautiful. It certainly is flourishing.
Certainly, W+K is not tiny, nor is it obscure. (The work for Nike precedes them everywhere.) But they are not a conglomerate. That TCCC and P&G should be prepared to trust them with a large account is telling.
What it’s telling me: that the boutique (or boutique-ish) agency may finally triumph. This appeared to be happening a few years ago. Very small agencies were winning business away from giant advertising firms. (One of them was called Taxi, apparently on the grounds that they never wanted to get larger than.)
But then along came the global brand, and suddenly everyone said, "No, we can only do business with firms that have representation everywhere." Good bye, boutiques.
Now, plainly, big agencies should be as creative as small ones. There is no technical reason why not. But in point of fact, bigness in agencies is sometimes as destructive of the innovative instinct as it is elsewhere in the corporate world. (And if an ad agency is not innovative, really, what’s the point? It should be grounds for immediate cessation…whereas a more conventional corporation without ideas is good for, well, they could last another 3 or 4 years, easily.)
Here’s what Dan Wieden had to say when pressed by the Wall Street Journal. (And, frankly, it kind of made me want to weep with gratitude.)
WSJ: For years marketers ballyhooed about the virtues of having a global ad firm that had offices in hundreds of markets around the world. Is that sentiment changing? And if so why?
Mr. Wieden: Yes. Obviously I sense change. You can see it with who we are going to bed with these days. When all this consolidation went on there was many voices that said ‘scale is king’ and it turns out — thank God — that the idea is king. At the end of the day, one individual with one good idea can trump an entire network of thousands who don’t have an idea.
Why should this illumination, that the idea is king, be so hard for the corporate world to fix upon? There can’t be any question. We’ve all sat in those committee meetings that take forever, turn the problem into mush, the problem solvers into morons, and, finally, give advantage to the time servers and the knuckle heads. (This surely the scary part. The knuckleheads feed on large committee meetings like ghouls staggering around in a Buffy graveyard.)
Surely, we will someday grasp that the corporation is a holligan, a veritable regicide, who, unless watched constantly and scaled back with enthusiasm, will destroy the very thing, the precious resource, on which the body politic (aka competitive success) depends.
Increasingly, it seems to me that innovation, the true spirit of creativity in the marketplace, belongs to those who are prepared work small and fast. The longer it takes, the more people it requires, the less likely it is to happen. Let’s call this "Wieden’s law."
McCracken, Grant. 2005. The Malamud effect: ideas and the corporation. This Blog Sits At… here.
Vranica, Suzanne. 2005. Small Firm, Big Ideas: Coke and P&G Sign On. Wall Street Journal. November 9, 2005, page B3E and here (subscription required).