Boutique vs Department Store close

David Hart
David Hart
In Musings
31st January 2008
Boutique vs Department Store

Someone described us as a “boutique agency” the other day. I’m not sure I’m 100% happy with that description because boutique sounds like something that’s small and expensive. But the concept of working with a digital-only agency versus one that does a variety of marketing disciplines is one that people talk about a lot.

I’m going to be biased in favour of our own set-up, but my view is based on my own real experiences over many years. There are a few myths that are banded around about the benefits of one approach over the other. These are a few of them:

Going to a one-stop shop ensures joined-up thinking

I’m not saying this is the case for every agency, but what I have observed is that each agency within a so-called  'integrated' group will have its own P&L and its own interest in not sharing the love around. If one part has a budget for the year from one of their clients, they are really loathed to give it away to anyone, even if they are all part of the same group. Your DM agency is unlikely to recommend that this year you divert a larger part of your marketing budget to digital – because it will reflect badly on their own business unit’s P&L.  How do you think the excuse that you missed your targets this year is because you were bolstering the Group elsewhere going to go down?

Bigger is better

Imagine, all those experienced directors from all those marketing disciplines all thinking about my business? Er... no. I worked for a large agency where everyone tended to operate in silos. OK they were big and some of the people there were bright, but the client might have one person fresh out of University really thinking about their business. He or she may get a share of a designer and a developer, but again, experience and expertise was a real lottery. Unless you had a lot of money to spend. But please don’t ever think that in a large agency the CEO sits down on a Monday and applies his or her enormous brain to each and every one of the campaigns going out that week.

Multi-disciplined means multi-expertise

Again, not always so. A lot of agencies will offer digital because they see an opportunity to cross-sell to their existing clients. I’m talking here more of agencies whose real expertise lies in something else. This may work for a bit of an HTML newsletter here or there, or a flash microsite, but ask them about database-driven content or video delivery and watch them reach for the “I’ll get back to you on that one” excuse.  I tend to think of it like asking your plumber to build you a shelving unit. Yeah – it all kind of falls under the same broad umbrella, but really wouldn’t it be better to get a carpenter to do that?

So, if being a boutique means that we are digital specialists, that we are small enough that the senior people are able to really care about each and every one of our clients, then I guess we are that. And if a boutique means that we have some soul and passion, where the department stores recycle the same old shit just to make the figures work, then I’m happy to be a boutique agency every day of the week.