Death of the large agency

Being a WordPress Agency.

Most agencies want to be big. It might be the default aim but how well thought out is that plan. And does it work long-term?

Sitting here in a Starbucks in Bristol it’s easy to forget that while work has changed for many of us, for others it’s still the same.

The digital agency world is crammed full of young aggressive companies trying to rule the world. They seem so focussed on internal growth it feels almost megalomaniacal. Digital agencies don’t need to be large, or stressed out with expansion.

We’ve seen, first hand, the kind of problems that growth for growth’s sake causes and it’s not very pretty really.

  • Fighting to continually win new clients and new business to feed the voracious growth monster
  • Hiring and firing becomes a constant drain on resources and staff moral as the agency struggles to keep up with the ever-burgeoning workload
  • Client service goes down the pan as all work sits on a critical growth path, causing love and care to go out the window.
  • Layers of management added to manage staff, problems and, often, juggling unhappy clients
  • Short-termism takes over. Client retention drops in line with sub-optimal service so no-one is interested in next year or the year after.
  • Increased debt burden and cashflow management can become an issue with self-funded businesses. For those who have bank, angel or VC funding the greedexpectation of the investors becomes a recurring thorn to deal with.
  • Loss of competitive advantage as every bookable minute is spent doing operational delivery and little is invested into what we should be doing tomorrow.
  • Competing for business means making enemies and expending resources not focussed on the well-being of the client-company partnership.

This really is just the tip of the iceberg. The founders of the business started the agency with ideals, vision and values that can easily be sacrificed on the altar of growth.

I say this from personal experience. It can turn great companies into mean machines of expansion, devouring creativity, soul and enjoyment.

It doesn’t have to be this way

We live in a post-industrial world, with a new generation of millennials moving into the working space. They are focussed on quality of life and work-balance – they are also the most creative folks within the labour market and they’re generally less bothered about money and prestige than they are about enjoying what they do and making a difference.

This new generation don’t sit well with old business practices. Big companies are now viewed with suspicion and an altogether more altruistic approach is starting to shine through.

Driving this is mass collaboration, the rise of the freelancer, location independence and open source technologies. Outsourcing and devolving work to groups and team via collaborative tools is brings a new social way of working.

Work is not a place you go to, it is something that you do


For many still working in a productionised environment this still means a morning commute and a 9-5 existence. For the new breed of smaller, more nimble and less growth-focussed companies this means liberation and a freedom to work when, where and how you want.

It doesn’t really mean the death of big agencies, or even the death of productionised environments. It does, however, mean there is a greater choice of how folks work and how companies operate. Collaborate or compete, that seems to be the conundrum.