In 1993, I was four years out of law school with a nice litigation practice working for a large firm based in Myrtle Beach. Life was good and the future looked bright, at least to me. I had recently gotten married and my wife was expecting our first child. So you can imagine the reaction I got when I came home one night and told my wife that I was quitting the law firm, taking a pay cut and going to work for my dad’s small agency.
Fast-forward 25 years to 2018. I’m sitting at my desk in Myrtle Beach and our little agency is all grown up. From one office, a team of seven and about $1 million in revenue to six offices and a staff of 120 bringing in roughly $15 million. It hasn’t been easy. But with hard work, ingenuity and a “get it done” attitude, we’ve succeeded where many have failed.
That’s not to say that we haven’t struggled and maneuvered seas of change. When I first started in this business, there was no internet, no social media, no AI and the only data we had were PRISM clusters appended to mailing addresses. We produced ads on film, we got printer’s proofs, we used a ton of FedEx and not everyone had a computer on their desk. We ran print ads, mailed brochures, made presentations on flip charts and we were good at it. As a small independent shop, we were able to grow because we were willing to take risks, be entrepreneurial and learn how to do things on our own.
When I think back to all that we’ve managed to thrive through, I’m optimistic about what comes next for independent agencies like ours. For years, I’ve read and listened to the pundits make doom and gloom predictions about the fate of independents and even the industry as a whole.
But what they’re not saying—or dare I say it, noticing—is that the very thing that has remained constant in our industry is also the one thing that gives independents their greatest advantage: change. We know change is coming, we’re on the lookout and we’re nimble and flexible in a way that the big names can’t ever hope to be. Speed to change outruns size, and it’s something I’ve bet big on to date, as did my dad.
As an independent shop offering integrated services, our competition comes from everywhere: big agencies owned by the holding companies, niche specialty agencies, the consulting firms, and everything in between. Our biggest advantage is our ability to flex and adapt faster. We customize our response to every client, and always have.
For example, as Facebook began to take things by storm, we saw the opportunity to build a turnkey social media team that could develop and execute a strategic marketing plan for our clients. Today, our social team generates over $1 million in revenue for our overall agency and has built a solid reputation at the same time; if you add content development to that, the number jumps to over $3 million.
What this all comes down to is that we saw the opportunity, developed a plan, hired and trained the right people and went out and sold it to our clients. We did all of that in a matter of 30 days. It took longer to generate the revenue of course, but the point is, we didn’t sit on our hands. We saw it, took immediate action, a.k.a. a risk, and it paid off.
A Future of Opportunity
So, as I look to the future and the changes ahead, what do I see? Opportunity. With the C-suite under ever-increasing pressure to drive earnings and please the street, they are looking for increased value, laser-focused accountability and better returns from their agency.
We are seeing more and more national brands turn to agencies like ours that are easier to work with, because we cut out all the BS to get things done. So, as they get tired of the big brands and burn out on the big names, we’ll be waiting for them.
Not only that, but the influx of large consulting firms coming into our space is confirmation that clients are craving something that the big agencies are having a hard time delivering: the ability to align their client’s business strategy with their brand strategy to create an overall corporate strategy. This is only possible by having access to the entire C-suite, not just the marketing team.
Today, we do as much business consulting as we do marketing, because we saw the need. We help write strategic business plans, work on private placement memorandums, help raise capital, prepare roadshows and everything in-between. As we move up and work with larger clients, I think the bigger companies will start to look at us as a great option for the very same reasons they’re abandoning the large agencies.
The best news is that there is plenty of work to go around, and no one agency or consulting firm can do it all. If we continue to work hard and remain personally vested (emphasis on personally) in our client’s businesses, we will continue to grow.