How to compete with the big boys

At this morning’s Designer Breakfasts event, a roomful of very small consultancies gathered to hear what it’s like to be a very big consultancy.

In the palatial surroundings of advertising agency BBH, The Brand Union’s Glenn Tutssel talked about his group’s rise from a small independent consultancy to a big, networked branding consultancy with the might of WPP behind it.

Glenn Tutssel
Glenn Tutssel

‘I would never have got the BBC [project] if I was a small consultancy,’ he observed, remembering the days before he sold Tutssels to WPP and it became The Brand Union.

‘Yes, I was getting awards for creativity, and I was paying my staff and bills, but I was not getting the big stuff, the big European business. We could never break out of our mould, so we made a decision to sell the business,’ he remembers.

Selling up changed things overnight. The group won Johnnie Walker as a client, and this win quickly introduced it to 360 degree projects that included elements of advertising, ‘which I personally am very interested in. It is commercial art, which is what we do, after all’.

Of course, Tutssel caught some flak for selling up – or selling out. ‘People told us that we wouldn’t be able to be so creative, that we would become money-driven, but I actually found that we were working in the same way as before, but plus the big projects’.

The point of the talk was not to convince a bunch of small groups to sell to WPP, but rather more generously to help them to compete with the big boys like The Brand Union.

To compete, says Tutssel, small consultancies must join together to add weight to their offers and pull in the bigger, international jobs. ‘Do not take on more staff, do not take on more overheads. Instead, build a solid network of like-minded individuals that can pull together. Small groups are absolutely challenging the big boys in terms of creativity, but they are never going to get the big work unless they are networked and weaving their skills together.’

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