January 18, 2016 Nik Livadas

10 Reasons to Avoid Rochester’s Top 10 Marketing Firms

Congratulations small business owner!
You’ve done your homework and are finally ready to concentrate on improving your online presence this year.
Are you shopping around for firms that can help you get the ball rolling or keep up momentum in 2016?

The Rochester Business Journal recently released their annual 2016 Book of Lists which includes the top 10 Marketing Communication and Web Design Firms in Rochester. You won’t find Livadas Consulting on these lists because we’re not rolling in that kind of dough just yet. This isn’t a sour grapes type of post, we’re proudly standing apart from the bunch. Here are the top 10 reasons a new high-tech small business shouldn’t bother contacting the top 10 firms here in town.

Large established agencies have been around the block so many times, they’re getting tired of digging in and learning about new high-tech businesses. Their natural tendencies during onboarding are to find efficiencies by comparing you to other companies and startups that they have already tried to help. They might call this leveraging their experience, but it’s a common pitfall in the business intelligence gathering process. Large agencies may automatically lump you in with others in your industry and use copy and paste strategies. If you sell software as a service, they’re going to be comparing you to some other SaaS that you and your audience has nothing to do with. Instead of learning about you, they’re going to ask how you’re different from someone else. I guess that’s a starting point, but wouldn’t you rather talk about your ‘next big thing’ with fresh ears?
Imagine dating someone who has had 1,500 significant others. You’re not going to mean to them what they mean to you. They’re going to accidentally call you the wrong name and reschedule your next meeting if someone better (in their minds) comes along.
Large agencies act like the bouncers at Club 54. When they self-promote, they want glamorous case studies and big name recognition. If you are a high-tech fertilizer manufacturer, you’re not going to be surrounded with happy faces if you aren’t immediately bounced. If you aren’t rejected, your account manager will consider you one of their “boring clients.” That attitude trickles all the way down to the 1 or 2 people working on your campaigns. Your company will become their liability and a point of frustration for them. Sadly, designers at large agencies measure each other’s worth with how fun and instantly recognizable their projects are.
Big agency digital teams really aren’t as big as they boast. Many large agencies outsource digital to smaller agencies, freelancers, or saddle unpaid college interns with it. Over the last dozen years we’ve produced as many websites for top grossing firms because they simply didn’t have anyone in-house who could make their online presence come to life. If you’re spending big money at a big agency, you’re not getting a large team of experienced professionals more qualified to derive solutions to your needs.
Do you think a large agency really cares if things aren’t going well with your small-sized business work? They deal with much larger projects, and don’t take it personally the same way you do. If your $15-20K project goes off the rails, they’re not going to lose any sleep, because it’s less than 1% of their overall picture.
Almost half of these giants are merging or closing up shop. They want to talk about the same old things that worked for them in the good ol’ days. To sort things out, they have expensive getaway weekends with other agencies because they don’t know what is going on in today’s market. Don Draper types have asked me for help while admitting they don’t even know what to ask.
The large agency’s mantra over the last few years is that ‘content marketing ain’t nothin’ new’ and that it lines right up with their creative story-telling traditions. Agency owners older than 40 love this narrative because it attempts to keep their know-how relevant in the new marketplace while simultaneously dumbing down the complexities of digital.
Although they hate to admit it, traditional agencies haven’t and can’t evolve out of their comfort zone with traditional marketing tactics. This is why they’ll talk about how they are ‘going digital’ in poster-sized inserts in local newspapers, and share ideas about social media at local seminars instead of using social media itself. The whole “advertising hasn’t changed” spin-move is desperately inaccurate and unsustainable. These hammer-wielding dinosaurs keep insisting that everything is and will always be a nail. We predict that in the future, lists of Web Design Firms and Marketing Communication Firms will simply become one list called Marketing Firms.
You’d think big creative ad agency execs would want to be in the center of all creative new media. The truth is that large agencies don’t creatively contribute to, much less attend events in the local arts scene. I would know because I have lived downtown for over a dozen years and am involved with producing experimental tech-driven visual arts. If you care about creative content, attend a First Friday art walk, gallery event, experimental light festival, Makerspace, or even a local craft show. You won’t see large agency presence there because they’re out of the loop or intentionally disconnected. They do however sponsor mainstream charity events so they can shameless brag about what a difference they make. Their sponsorship plaques are office decorations and Facebook karma fodder. A “Day of Caring” while nice, implies to me they only care one day a year for the wrong reasons.
Retaining talent while underpaying them, and overcharging clients is a tough challenge. To offset this, the top agencies create a recess at work whitebread office culture. Amidst all the foosball games and company outings, everyone can lose track of why they’re all there in the first place: your bottom line. March madness, fantasy football leagues, bring your dog to work days, zip-lining, yada, yada, yada. Checkout #agencylife for endless examples of their funcamp work-ethic. Top agencies celebrate the outdated notion of a “work-life” balance. This is code for: “We don’t work you too hard and we’re easy to work with.” When employees buy into all the ‘best places to work’ HR/PR hype, they’re allowing themselves to be underpaid. Underpaid employees in fun environments goof-off and under-perform. If a large agency is able to convince 40-50 people that their ‘best place to work’ experience is worth a 10K pay-cut, guess who gets to pocket the half a million bucks? Hint: Not the clients.
You simply can’t afford them. Even if you could, they explicitly don’t guarantee results.


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Comment (1)

  1. Wasim K.

    Dude no. It is TOTALLY worth it to pay a big agency $5000 a month for them to put together a nice big scrapbook of all the PR that you generate yourself. They look like college book reports from 1999 and everything!

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