What is a Boutique Agency and Should You Consider One?
As you research agencies you may see many touting that they are “boutique.” What is a boutique agency? A boutique agency is an agency that prides itself on its smaller size, usually under 20 employees. Boutique agencies tend to offer either specializations or a more hands-on approach to client services.
Is a boutique agency right for you? Whether a boutique agency is right for you certainly depends on your needs. So let’s explore some common questions about boutique agencies.
Do Boutique Agencies Offer the Same Services as Larger Agencies?
In so much as all agencies vary in services offered, yes, but boutique agencies expand and contract as a client needs. To do this, they often rely on a trusted team of subject experts and implementation specialists. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. The advantage is you’re not paying for services and team members you aren’t using. The disadvantage is adding to scope and implementation may take longer. Let’s say you need a 3-minute video done, and you need it finished yesterday.
Regardless of agency size, you’re dealing with the adage of “pick two: fast, excellent, or cheap.” But a super-fast turnaround may be firmly in the realm of possibility within a large agency. They may have a scriptwriter, videographer, and editing team at the ready. Meanwhile, if you ask a boutique agency to script a video, record a video and edit one, it may take slightly longer as those team members aren’t ready right away, and to make it happen, you may pay more for the additional scope than at a larger agency, since these are “on-call” specialist team members as opposed to those employed full-time by a larger agency. So if you need an agency for services at the last minute, or with a 24-7 approach, a larger agency may be your better choice.
Do I Get The Same Level of Service?
Of course, it depends on your definition of service. So let’s break down how agencies of different sizes handle client management. Boutique agencies have more “working managers,” which means your account managers are frequently agency executives. Their level of engagement will vary depending on factors like your budget, but they’re more deeply involved with your account than at a larger agency. You may even work with the CEO of the agency at a boutique agency; a highly unlikely occurrence at a large agency. Also, typically, larger agencies assign more clients per team member than boutique agencies do. Where a strategist at a large agency may carry 6-8 clients, at a boutique agency, your strategist may carry 4-5 clients at once. For example, at our agency, we’re regularly receiving service inquiries, but our current clients always come first. We make that choice because our senior strategists are involved in both biz development and client work. If personalized strategies and personal attention matter, a smaller agency may suit you better.
At a larger agency, it’s very common to work with an executive during the RFP or decision-making process, but that executive is rarely involved in the day-to-day of your account; you may see them once a month. So if working with executive-level strategists is important to you, you may appreciate the personalized attention a boutique offers. But if you are someone who only wants to hear from your agency’s account team when necessary or you’re ok with a more junior account team for the day-to-day, then you may appreciate the larger agency’s approach. But if you want more engaged and experienced strategists, who are regularly active in and with your account, then a smaller agency might be better.
Are Boutique Agencies Less Expensive?
First, some perspective. Your $20,000 budget might be a minimum at a larger agency, but quite substantial at a boutique agency. So you should consider the value of working with a larger agency as part of the whole value proposition (like additional services mentioned above). Now, sometimes hiring a larger agency is well worth it; “no one ever got fired for hiring Edelman.” So even though your budget doesn’t command the same level of respect from a larger agency, there may be a real advantage to having a named agency as your agency of record. But if you want the red carpet rolled out for you, at that price range, then a boutique agency may be a better choice for you.