In a globalized culture, there’s a popular belief that bigger is usually better, or at least preferable somehow. Whether it’s the scale of the city, size of a company, the ubiquity of a product or the popularity of a trend, many are attracted to ‘bigness’ as a clear hallmark of superiority. But that’s never made a lot of sense to me. After two-and-a-half decades living in the nation’s biggest cities, working for some of the biggest agencies and companies, I’ve developed a different perspective. I won’t say that smaller is de facto better, but the smaller city, the smaller agency or smaller brand can absolutely compete in a way that simply wasn’t possible a few decades ago.
It’s precisely because of globalization, of media and fashion, of taste and technology, that competitive aptitude is no longer the perquisite of just a few chosen places. Interconnectedness of travel and communication allows for non-local associations that pair creative and economic resources for maximum mutual benefit. Mega-agencies in mega-cities can access mega talent pools, but also shoulder mega overheads. Think rent and taxes. Expansive administrative structures. Higher cost of talent, etc. On top of that, I’ve found that the more densely populated a locale or company, the greater the hazard of groupthink and the inevitable drain on morale and creativity that it imposes. Plenty of great work still comes from these places, but at a predictably higher cost, both real and intangible.
On the other hand, a relatively small agency in an unlikely place, like Newhall Klein, is every bit as adept as its larger counterparts, but operates with a small-team mentality and resourcefulness that those bigger places don’t – and can’t. Everyone in an operation like this assumes his or her role with a maximum gravity and accountability, because, as with all lean operations, there’s simply no one extra to subsidize underperformance. You either deliver your best, consistently, or your job may disappear. And there’s no assurance of hopping to the next agency down the street for a job, because that agency doesn’t exist.
NK turns 30 in 2019. Thirty years of flourishing enterprise in a free market setting and a climate of relentless consolidation is indicative of an operation meeting the mark. There’s simply too much creative competition available to clients everywhere, at every level, for them to settle for second best. And that continually escalating bar of expectation is precisely what feeds our fire.