Vice President, Group Creative Director
For most of my career, I worked at larger agencies. I’m talking 500-plus people. Many floors. Different departments. A mail room, even.
But twice in my life, I’ve worked at smaller agencies. The first time was when I was about 4 years into my career – still fairly junior and new to the industry. The other time? Now.
Now, I’m at The Norton Agency. An agency in Chicago’s West Loop area with a 30-plus year history. Over the years, we’ve been an agency focused on clients in the fields of medicine, building supplies and finance. People will always need wellness, shelter and money, so those are good places to play. My job is to lead the creative team and partner with our creative production, account and strategic planning leads as we take our shop into the future.
As I look back over the years and experiences, a few things stand out for me.
No holding company. Less holding patterns.
One of the biggest differences that I have noticed is the lack of holding company BS getting in the way of the work. The Norton Agency is small, but mighty. And with that comes our ability to nimbly change as needed and with the times. We make decisions quickly on behalf of ourselves and for our clients – that’s right, we. If I want to tackle a big new biz pitch, or invest some creative time into a new client, or add a suite of software tools to the creative toolbox, I don’t have to draft a letter in triplicate and mail it off to people I’ve never met in London, Paris or NYC to ask and wait and wait for permission.
At the Norton Agency, all I have to do is walk 20 feet to the founder’s office and ask. Maybe offer a two- to five-minute explanation, and then I get my answer. No waiting, no politics. Just a decision so we can take action and get back to work.
Fewer support groups. More actual supporting.
Big companies are great. Lots of people, from all walks of life, working together. Advertising agencies are full of curious, hardworking, dedicated people with diverse backgrounds and talents. But sometimes, in a big agency, it’s hard for individual opinions to be heard and it’s a challenge for everyone to feel supported. Bigger companies – with bigger budgets – will often create support groups to help people feel heard, to help folks find others with similar interests, and to take on some of the issues facing working people today.
At The Norton Agency, we might not have support groups, but we all work together at being each other’s support group. Whether it’s mentorship, creating a workplace where all opinions are heard and valid, or simply working hard and doing our part to help each other be successful and accountable, you never get the feeling that you are an island, or on your own.
Everything matters. Not just what matters to me.
During my years in the employ of big agencies, I did a lot of work on a lot of accounts. But unless the creative work won all the awards or the team reeled in an enormous new piece of business, it was really challenging to see how your day-to-day contributions mattered to the larger organization. So, employees would become very, very focused on self and promotion of self rather than the good of the whole. The view was sorta “I’ll work for me” to many there, with focus being placed solely on one’s account, one’s challenges and personal successes.
One thing I’ve learned at Norton is that it’s not always just about me. It simply can’t be. As we all work together, our every action impacts the whole. One day it’s something simple like taking the pods out of the coffee maker. The next might be more of a challenge like pushing for new ways to make the best work we can in the most efficient way possible. But every day, we are in it together, striving to take the work and the agency to new heights. Every action – of every one of us – matters and that’s a difference I feel every day.
So maybe you’re shopping for a new agency to help take your business or brand to the next level. It’s a big world, filled with big dreams and big ideas. And of course, big agencies. But the next time you think about partnering with an agency – and you want to get big impact from your marketing dollars, consider thinking smaller.
And then, consider thinking Norton.