In A Parallel Advertising Universe, Small Is Beautiful

Inquiring minds want to know, what is it like to focus on the marketing needs of small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs)? Do SMBs have different needs from large corporate clients?

Fundamentally, their needs are alike in that all companies must communicate brand value in a mostly disinterested marketplace. How they choose to address this problem is where the similarities end. CEOs of SMBs sometimes question the need for marketing, or see marketing as an unnecessary expense, a luxury at best. Chief Marketing Officers at big brands, on the other hand do not question the need for marketing, or that they will invest all they have in building their brand(s).

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I grew up in the agency business serving large consumer clients like Coors Brewing, Samsonite, McDonald’s, Bailey’s and HP. It can be a kick to serve these clients. They have money to make dreams come true, they believe in marketing and they bring a level of sophistication to the table that is both challenging and enriching. Working at this level can also become a snake pit of co-dependence, bad decisions and crappy creative output.

Plusses and minuses aside, clients at big brands lose sleep over various $10 million decisions. When you work with SMBs the budgets are smaller but the decisions to invest in brand are just as big. SMBs rarely have a penny to waste, so when they do spend on marketing they expect value for their dollar, and we the small agencies of the world must provide it.

According to the U.S. Small Business Association, the 23 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales. Since 1990, as big business eliminated 4 million jobs, small businesses added 8 million new jobs. There’s no question that what we refer to as “small business” is a very big deal. It is also no secret that the ad business is set up to serve enterprise-level firms. That’s where the money is and where the action is. SMBs are not flying a team to Cannes this spring. Or next spring. Personally, I find this refreshing. Making ads can be a craft that you dedicate decades of your life to perfecting, or it can be a circus that you join for a trip or two around the world.

Five years in to this entrepreneurial journey, I feel as if I’ve left the circus behind. I no longer worry about winning industry awards or being industry famous—my concern is winning clients and performing for the clients that I have. The idea that the ad business is glamorous, or was glamorous, is faulty. The ad business, like all other businesses, is a place where you learn to perfect your day-to-day while looking for opportunities to truly shine.

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