By Claire Koeneman
There has been a lot in the press lately about the future of the PR industry. Questions like: how are we competing against ad agencies, against management consulting firms, against each other, is bigger better, is smaller better… I have some perspective on this.
Recently, I joined BPI, a fast-growing boutique, digital-first agency of 120 smart, entrepreneurial, supportive professionals with cutting-edge research & data capabilities. It’s been a blast partly because we’re taking work streams and full client relationships away from the larger communications firms.
For me, joining BPI is not just fun and exciting, it is also a return to my boutique communication agency roots. I spent the first 17 years of my professional career working at — and eventually leading — a boutique PR firm that was very strong in financial and corporate communications and investor relations. And we were the “first call” on all work in our space. After that, I worked at a larger, more global communications firm for six years. For certain clients, the larger agency provided scale and a full menu of services, but frequently these positives were offset by the P&L silos, staffing for profit — junior team members did the majority of client work — staff burnout, and high turnover that are common at large PR and advertising agencies. These large-agency flaws affect each of their clients…whether they know it or not.
Why are BPI and other boutique firms winning clients and growing?
First off, we’re able to decide what we believe in and who we will align ourselves with — be it companies, causes or candidates. We don’t “pitch” everything to everybody. BPI identifies the kind of brands and people we’re passionate about, and then we go after them. We also put our best talent on client accounts, regardless of geography and title. Plus, because we are privately-held (meaning less red tape/administrative approvals), BPI makes opportunistic hires and adds staff quickly to service our clients. Finally, our BPI team is made up of strategic thinkers — we challenge each other — and that’s reflected in our client engagements. We slow down, listen to clients and really think through what it will take to get them to a win.
I’m looking forward to seeing additional changes in our industry this year. I do believe that smaller firms with cutting-edge capabilities, strong cultures, excellent talent at all levels, and high growth performance will continue to out-perform larger agencies. While a big firm can service needs, a boutique agency — like BPI — can dig deeper and find solutions.