Feb 26, 2015

Let’s start with the disclaimer that we have a very strong bias on the issue of large vs. small when it comes to public affairs and public relations firms (Hint: our firm has fewer than 10 employees if that gives you any idea where we’re going to come down on this).

Don’t get us wrong. Big firms have a lot to offer: lots of people, lots of reach, lots of capacity. If you’re trying to run a national or global program (think ‘Got Milk?’ or a presidential campaign), you probably need to go to one of the bigs due to the sheer volume of work. However, don’t get sucked into the view that bigger necessarily means better or smarter. In many cases, bigger just means bigger.

Sure it’s nice to know that a firm has offices in different cities, each with their own highly specialized practice areas and super credentialed team leaders. You know, the one-stop shop concept. Big firms will often describe the synergy among their various offices and locations as a selling point but as often as not, those offices are individual profit centers and are more competitive with each other than they are with the competition.

Another problem is that it is exceedingly difficult to be the best in class in every single market and in every single practice area. Your big firm may have an in-house research, design or lobbying capability which is nice except that there may be – no, probably are – smaller, specialty firms in your market with more creative, scrappier and frankly better talent than that in-house at your big firm. Remember, a lot of the people who launch and work in small firms came from large ones because they had the skills and confidence to make it on their own.

If you’re small and you’re smart, you learn to do a few things really, really well. You become a specialist and learn to be a very good team player when a big firm brings you in. If you’re smart, you will also make it your business to know where the really good talent is so that you can assemble an all-star team – comprised of inside and outside talent — when it’s in your clients’ best interest.