Our founder and CEO Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, talks about the rise of the boutique agency and the new culture of the PR business.
When I started my career, some twenty years ago (yes, I’m that old!), the agency world order went something like this: Fortune 500 brands were matched up by global agencies with offices across the world; brands who could not afford global agencies would team up with mid-size agencies with key markets presence; and small, boutique agencies would cater mainly to local businesses and the very occasional big brand projects.
What a difference a decade made! Eight years ago, when I set up TishTash, the order was starting to crumble. And today, big brands are increasingly making the move from the titans of the industry, with established local offices and vast resources, to startups, like my agency. So, whilst many of the big global agencies are reporting one of their worst years ever in 2018 and 2019, my boutique agency is reporting record growth of over 40% year on year, as well as a doubling in team and office space, as is the case at many of the other amazing boutique agencies we also have in the UAE.
To me, this is not at all baffling. It’s a reflection of the evolving industry and environment at the present: clients’ appetite for social media, influencer partnerships, SEO and content creation is high, and whilst they may not move as fast as they’d like or need to, they certainly expect that their partner agency does.
In my view, at this point in time, a boutique agency presents several intrinsic qualities that can turn it into the right partner for a big, global brand:
The Skill Set
First off, I feel that today the divide between marketing, media, social and public relations is blurred. Moreover, clients are looking for a communications partner that has all this expertise (and then some) in one room, and knows exactly how to optimize it to their brands’ benefit. At TishTash, our core team can do – and does – everything from crisis management and media training to media lists and pitching, and even stuffing goodie bags at events. We can prep the CEO for his big broadcast interview. We know what it takes to pitch to Gulf News or Zahrat Al Khaleej. We can assess the timeline for campaigns and the expected results, or the likelihood of collaborating with an influencer. We can do it all, because we do it daily. This mix of strategic thinking and hands-on, practical knowledge makes our workflow better than in most other agency setups, and, importantly, drives greater results for our clients.
The Client Approach
In our agency, we focus only on getting the job done – well and fast. This focus is a necessity. We’re a small(ish) team, with a lean structure, we can’t fill our day with status meetings. This approach works for our clients too as they like to partner with someone who gets their business, is quick to respond, and can deal with a myriad of tasks.
As a result, we have grown solely by word of mouth and referrals, and our client list counts over 60 brands – homegrown, niche and global names. It turns out that size matters less and less even to the biggest of the clients. What they value most is the team they deal with daily. They value knowledge, honesty and passion. That’s not to say that it’s not tricky to scale up to carry out a global assignment!
A smaller agency’s culture defines itself quickly, from the fabric of the founder and the core team. When you step in our office, you know we’re a fun and nurturing place to work in, where a young person can hone her/his skills. But we offer a much wider outlook: we’re the startup to learn firsthand the ins and outs of running a business, we promote a ‘girl boss’ culture (whilst being an equal opportunity employer). That’s why for us being knowledgeable, hardworking, resourceful, entrepreneurial, open and honest are not empty words.
With a small-medium but strong team of 20, the work flow is direct and effective: there’s no room for things to get miscommunicated or fall through the cracks. Also, a smaller work place fosters a tight knit team that works smarter, faster, better. And clients of all sizes value a fast moving, seasoned and dedicated team that works at their side.
I don’t have a (pink) crystal ball to foresee the future of PR agencies, but based on my experience of running one in the last eight years, I think a new culture is shaping up, and we should get ready for even more transformations and disruptions ahead.