Does size matter? The age old question. This topic comes up a lot with my agency friends. What is the perfect size of an agency? After being in the industry for almost 20 years I am confident I have the perspective to give an informed response…the answer is 42.
Just kidding. The real answer is 25. 25 is the perfect number if you are looking to build a sustainable, thriving and perhaps most important…healthy agency. They key word here is healthy. Are there successful agencies that are bigger than 25…yes of course. But I am not trying to convince you of the magic head count for the success of an agency I am trying to deliver the head count that leads to a healthy agency. Let’s start my case by listing the top 3 traits that I believe make an agency healthy then I will get into the head count. Here they are in order of importance.
Of course this is #1. Nothing can be done if you don’t like the work. No one is happy if they are working on something they don’t or can’t believe in. Here’s an example…I had a contractor once turn down a well paying 3 month contract because he didn’t believe in the product which were high-end, top of the line rifle scopes. While I didn’t agree with his choice and had no problem working that account he just felt “wrong” about working for a company that is even remotely associated with guns. I tried for about 2 minutes to convince him saying…”no no they are for hunting rifles…its guaranteed work for the whole quarter…yadda yadda” but I quickly stopped because even if I changed his mind in the short term over the course of the project I know he would end up feeling dirty. I would feel the same if I had to work on a tobacco or pharma account.
I almost had this at #1. You can’t build something if you have people with one foot out of the door. It’s hard to find in agency world but it’s the truth. The long hours, the pressure, the traveling…it means nothing if you can’t look your boss in the eye and say I like working for you. I know many people that do not give 100% to their work because “I’ll be outta here in 6 months anyway” or “I hate it here”. Not good. You have to have that loyalty or its game over.
Ah, that sweet word every agency loves to talk about – “Culture”. I want to be clear about what I mean by this. I do not mean the color of the paint, the amenities in the kitchen or the cool stuff hanging from the walls. I am talking about the philosophy and principles that underlines the decisions that leadership makes. This is so key to a healthy agency. If the boss is making decisions the team doesn’t agree with they feel it. Even if indirectly they still feel it. You must have a north star and you must have a team that can follow you as it guides.
Ok that’s that. So how does a 25 head count play into these things and why is that the perfect number? Let’s start with #1
The Work – If you are at 25 people it is clear that you have built up a solid client base and have some stability. In my opinion at 25 people you can handle a large portfolio with well managed teams. The further you move beyond 25 people the further apart the teams become and the agency suffers. In addition; your client roster starts to look like a list from a business journal and not a set of well curated, targeted partners. Keep the team lean and mean and the client list stays nice and clean.
The Loyalty – After you pass 25 people something funny happens. People start thinking that they don’t have a voice…they aren’t part of something that has meaning. When that happens you lose hearts and minds. For an agency to be healthy everyone needs to feel that have some contribution to its destiny. You get more out of the team when they have an idea and can walk right up to someone and do something about it. When you are at or near 25 you can identify potential quicker and can leverage that potential in a meaningful way. When you start adding heads you start losing your ability to see eyes and that is dangerous. Being able to talk to people and not titles does more to create a healthy agency than just about anything else.
The Culture – Past 25 you start developing the culture killer…cliques. They are the worst. Nothing like a clique culture to make you feel like you are back in high school. Competition and rivalries are good but that’s not what I am talking about here. Let’s check out the actual definition: clique – a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them. That last part that’s what I am talking about. Cliques prevent people from mixing and create a culture of “in” and “out” crowds that are toxic. The further you get from 25 the less likely you are to know everyone. A healthy agency is a family and you need to know people to be a family because…
“…each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case and a princess and a criminal.”