To work at a big agency or a small agency?

Q:  I don’t know if I want to work at a big agency or a small agency. What’s the difference?

Students often don’t know which is better:  big or small. It’s hard to know without working in both. Rob Schapiro (ECD at Brunner) has worked in big and small shops, and he wrote a nice article on this topic. It’s on the Talent Zoo website. Some thoughts from his article are included here as well as some other thoughts.

First of all, Rob defines a small agency as having less than 40 people. And a big agency as having more than 400. That seems like a good place to work from.

GOOD THINGS ABOUT SMALL AGENCIES:
– Get to talk with the president the client company (or someone close to him/her). It’s good to work with the person with ultimate authority. You’ll be on a first-name basis with the president of the agency, too.
– Big budgets will never sway your thinking. Creating a great 30-second spot for a few thousand bucks will require good, strong thinking.
– To be noticed, the work must be great. The small media budgets won’t develop anyone’s reputation.
– Learn a little of everything. There are less people around, so everyone wears many hats. Get a taste of different sides of the business.
– Get to know co-workers well. The entire creative department can meet up after work for drinks and easily fit at the bar down the block.
– Christmas Party:  All 37 of you will climb on a bus equipped with a keg, check out the tacky lights around town and wind up at a bowling alley somewhere. Or do something else just as cost-effective.
– Some small agencies think and act like big agencies (in a good way).

GOOD THINGS ABOUT BIG AGENCIES:
– The clients are more experienced. Less of a learning curve about how good advertising works.
– Big budgets. Great concepts can be afforded top-notch talent.
– Even if people don’t recognize your name, they’ll know your agency.
– It’s a little easier to develop into a T-shaped talent because there’s less demand for a jack-of-all-trades.
– More opportunities for movement within the organization. It’s just a math thing.
– Get to know co-workers well. Even in a huge company, we’re all human; we’re social beings who like our small communities. The folks you hang with at work can meet up after work for drinks and easily fit at the bar down the block.
– Christmas Party:  Semi-formal at a nice hotel. Open bar. Good eats.
– Some big agencies think and act like small agencies (in a good way).

Which one is better?  Rob Schapiro summarizes it by saying, “It really depends on you.” I’ll add a little more by saying, “It really depends on you and the particular agency.”  It also depends on your career goals. If you want to eventually work at a big agency, start there to learn how big agencies work. If you want to eventually work at a small shop, start there to get good at wearing lots of hats.

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