Small Marketing Agencies Bring Big Results

Small Marketing Agencies Bring Big Results

Some years back, a large-scale insurance company hired a similarly large-scale marketing agency to promote a new auto insurance product. It was to be released just before the holidays, when auto accidents are at their highest. But by July of the following year, when the trees were in full bloom and snow and ice were nowhere in sight, the public was not yet aware of the product, much less able to purchase it.

Why? Because those responsible for the marketing campaign were mired in large company red tape and way too many cooks in the kitchen.

In a surprising twist in paradigm, the company decided to hire a small, independent agency, free from the constraints of big-business bureaucracy. Within a few months, the product was re-conceived, re-marketed, and released for public consumption…well before the first frost.

“Big brands with big vision are looking for agencies that can match their perspective, not their size,” said Ruth Bernstein, co-founder and chief strategic officer at YARD, a New York-based creative agency. Bernstein isn’t alone in her thinking; clients and marketing executives everywhere are extoling the virtues of smaller agencies.

Perhaps one, Nail Communications Creative Partner Alec Beckett, says it best: “…A tight-knit group of employees with small egos and huge hearts…means collaborative relationships with clients where their successes and failures ring and sting as our own.” Small egos and huge hearts? Are we talking about profit-based business here?


In addition to magnanimity, there are other benefits to working with a small marketing agency:

Speed – Because small agencies involve fewer levels of hierarchy and a flatter organizational structure, work can be produced and delivered nimbly and quickly. Large agencies swamped in several levels of internal approval and pressure from external shareholders and stock analysts experience longer turnover times and inhibited productivity. Associates in a small agency can all collaborate together, eliminating the time suck of people working in silos and stalled in multiple layers of personnel.
Innovation – Ever wonder why the five-person startup companies seem to be the most innovativethus capturing the lion’s share of audience attention? People who choose to work for smaller, independent companies are typically uninhibited, free-thinking types who are not afraid to take risks. They seek out work cultures and environments that encourage creativity and truly “out of the box” thinking. They are unaffected by holding company rules, outside agendas, and the need to receive permission from multiple players in the process. The result is fresh, original work that can keep up with changing trends and stands out in the eyes of clients and consumers.
Client-agency relationships – Just as smaller agency associates can collaborate equally with team members, so can their clients. According to Abby Lee, vice president of marketing at RE/MAX: “Smaller agencies tend to become part of your marketing team – they get ingrained in your company’s DNA. They are more interested in your business and helping it evolve and grow than…in using it as a vessel for awards and accolades.” Indeed, the boutique culture of smaller agencies is closer, friendlier, more readily available to chew over ideas with each other and with clients. No one is more important than another, and there really is no “I” in their “TEAM.” Over the years, a small agency can become like family, invested personally and emotionally in clients’ success.
More bang for the buck – Because small agencies typically hire all senior level people, bypassing the junior level staff that large agencies often employ, clients get the most for their money in terms of talent and experience. “Big agencies reel in new accounts with a list of prestigious names that will be working on the project, but once you’re on board it’s usually lower-level staff that will actually be doing the work,” notes growth marketer AJ Agrawal. What’s more, pricing can be more competitive because it takes a smaller, less layered agency less time to produce quality work. Less time often equates to less cost.
Flexibility – Small agencies are bound by little but the limits of their imagination. Decisions can be made spontaneously, and boundless permutations of an idea can blossom over the course of a day – heck, an hour! Think it, write it, design it, present it. Client has other ideas? No problem; back to the drawing board, and boom! Another collective brainchild is conceived. No project is too small, few deadlines are too tight, and big projects are met with excitement, unhindered by a tangle of corporate red tape and a snail’s inertia.
SpecializationSmaller agencies are often specialists in a certain service, audience or vertical. This is particularly appealing to marketers who don’t wish to spend time educating partners on their industry, especially for smaller projects, or gaining physical proximity to manage progress. Specialized professionals have years of insight into certain industries, and businesses of any size value their expertise and ability to go deep.

Let our boutique marketing experts show you the big advantages of a smaller agency.


Anatomy of a Healthy Client-Agency Relationship

Anatomy of a Healthy Client-Agency Relationship

Few things threaten a relationship like dishonesty. The same can be said about relationships between clients and their marketing agencies. In fact, a 2016 Association of National Advertisers poll revealed that advertisers voted for “transparency” as the word of the year.

How can you know if an agency is going to be truly honest with you and fully dedicated to your success? It’s not as if their own marketing material is going to announce weak commitment and shady practices.

Transparency must go beyond upfront contracts into meaningful connections with you that include asking questions, listening to your goals and needs, having conversations, and demonstrating genuine concern for more than getting paid. An atmosphere of trust and support is how long-term faith and loyalty is built in any partnership, including the one with your marketing agency.

Let’s look at the anatomy of a great agency-client relationship, guts and all:

What’s in a Contract?
While a good agency should serve you in intangible ways, above and beyond the concrete terms of a contract, the importance of a clear, air-tight marketing contract cannot be underrated. While your contract should serve and protect both parties, and your agency has a duty to protect itself as well, let’s re-emphasize the role of transparency.

In answer to the question above – what’s in a contract? – everything your agency really can do, and nothing it really can’t. After that, besides terms and fees, your contract should include a view of the current marketing landscape (and advertising and PR, if your agency is capable), the current landscape of your particular industry, key elements to a successful campaign, content strategies, and agency deliverables.

There Is No Such Thing As Too Many Questions
Your agency should be so excited to have you as their new client, they can hardly contain themselves. But, because they’re professionals, they may not literally be jumping for joy before your eyes. In fact, they may even be a little hesitant to delve into too many questions for you. But they shouldn’t. They should ask every possible thing they can to serve you best and help you realize your dreams. In fact, content marketing expert and author Jami Oetting suggests 90 (yes, 90) revealing questions agencies should ask their new clients.

Did We Mention Guts?
A great marketing agency is a team of creative, passionate, endlessly curious people who aren’t afraid of hard work and trying new strategies. They should realize when it’s time to move away from “same-old, same-old” tactics into uncharted territory. Oetting refers to this fearlessness as “keeping your hands dirty” by staying abreast of marketing trends and client industries. “[Agencies] get into the trenches with team members to understand how they’re working and where their challenges are,” she notes.

What’s in a Team?
In addition to passion and guts, you should find in your marketing professionals a relentless dedication to your business, goals and personnel – and theirs, too. Regardless of size, your marketing team should also clearly see and understand the broad picture of all the players in the business-agency relationship: the client, client’s customers/prospects, management team/owners, and their own agency constituents. We like Oetting’s comment here, too: “Think of clients, senior management, and team members as legs of a stool. If any single leg is getting short shrift, the entire enterprise is thrown off balance.”

The “L” word, and we’re only ten paragraphs in! But it’s not overzealous to apply that word to the client-agency relationship, because your agency really should love you and treat you like a precious member of the family. That involves going overboard, showing up because they care, staying in frequent “live” touch – in person or on the phone – breaking bread together, respectfully telling the truth (even if it hurts, like “this strategy isn’t working, and we need to change course”), being genuinely joyful when you’re successful…and genuinely upset – and immediately responsive – when you’re not.

The right marketing team should treat you like a treasured partner in a healthy relationship. Nothing less will do.


Giving Thanks – Low Cost Employee Recognition

Giving Thanks – Low Cost Employee Recognition


Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on more than just the turkey, stuffing and football.  This holiday is a nice time for you, as a business leader, to recognize the hard work your associates do to drive your bottom line.  “Bersin & Associates completed a comprehensive research project on employee recognition (saying thank you) and the results are really astounding: organizations that give regular thanks to their employees far out perform those that don’t.” 1

Realizing some companies don’t have large Human Resource budgets, here are our low cost suggestions for giving thanks to your employees this year.

1.)   Don’t forget the simple manners you learned as a kid.  Please and thank you go a long way with associates.  No budget is too small for manners and showcasing a polite workplace is appreciated by all.

2.)   With Thanksgiving being all about the food, bring that to the office.  Host a simple potluck and get the group together for office bonding.

3.)   Host a food drive.  Pick a favorite charity among associates and for the holiday week collect food and drop off at the organization they chose.  The morale from showing care will return their enhanced care for your company.

4.)   Offer a flexible work schedule during holiday weeks.  If coverage is key, work this in with a calendar where co-workers can balance their time off with each other.  It may even produce more productivity for the shortened hours they’re there and increase positive workplace thoughts during the holiday season.

5.)   Bring in breakfast.  Who doesn’t appreciate a donut or bagel brought in?

6.)   Send a note.  If your company is small enough, a short but hand-written acknowledgment note goes a long way.  If your company is too large for the CEO to handle such a task, send a personalized e-card.

7.)   Present recognition for a task well done publicly.  During your staff and/or board meeting, showcase the results giving credit to the attributed employee.

As suggested, Thanksgiving is a great time to say thanks, but year-round use every opportunity to show your employees gratitude.  The connection between effective employee recognition and employee engagement has been proven since the beginning of time.  Engaged employees are critical to your company’s success.  Read more about Bersin’s study results.

1        Forbes 6/13/2012


It’s addicting!  The fast-paced, ever changing world of public relations and marketing captures your interest and keeps you charged up to learn more everyday.  I love to find the best ways to tell our client’s stories and man, they have awesome stories!

It’s my job to discover our client’s goals and then match the best processes to achieve them, within their budgets, of course.  I get to explore traditional, digital and every manner of communication to determine which tactics, whether it is direct mail or TV advertising, a new website or PPC (to name just a few) will efficiently and effectively capture the attention of prospects. 

I also get to work with great people at IVY – they’re creative, fun, caring and super smart.  We’ve all been around the industry a while so there is not a novice among us.  Our clients are very cool too and totally passionate about the services they offer.  We’ve been working with most of them for years so we know they truly care about being innovative and responsible to the markets they service.  I have great admiration for all of them and look forward to every day. 

It’s true what “they” say, if you love what you do, you won’t work a day of your life!


IVY was established in 1990 with a basic premise to offer professional, ethical and highly creative marketing, advertising and public relations services. We have successfully maintained our core values and have been part of many amazing projects, client growth and changes in the world of marketing that continue to happen at lightening speed. Most of our clients serve older adults in some capacity so we keep abreast of the opportunities and challenges they face.   Each day, we keep it real and fun and consistently deliver positive results to our clients and their markets.


As a hybrid graphic and digital designer/web developer with over 17 years of experience, I am always on the lookout for innovative digital and print visual communications. IVY Marketing Group’s broad range of projects keeps my job challenging and rewarding, as each campaign is a new and exciting opportunity to effectively communicate our clients’ messages and help them achieve their goals. It’s my passion!

My body of work encompasses a diverse design style and wide base of clients, ranging from national associations, small businesses and big name brands like Hyatt and LiftMaster. I firmly believe that form follows function and highly value the communicative power of simplicity. 

Areas of professional expertise include Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Word Press, Responsive Design, CSS3, and HTML5. The industries I’ve served include senior living, health care, hospitality and finance.


All my life, I have loved writing. As a child, I could often be found in my room “writing a book.” While “novelist” is not (yet) on my resume, I am a storyteller. I believe that everyone and everything has a great story, and it is my joy to find that story and share it with the world.

After earning my bachelor’s degree in journalism and completing my master’s studies in the same field, I joined a small advertising agency with powerhouse clients in the hospitality industry, such as Hyatt, Hilton International and Carnival Cruise Lines. I began as a proofreader and achieved the position of senior copy writer within a year.

After my first son was born, followed by two more, I started a freelance writing business that included (among several others) such clients as Advocate Health Care and Coldwell-Banker Realty. Clients in the education arena included DeVry University’s Becker CPA and Stalla CFA Reviews, DePaul University, and Naperville School District 203, for which I won two state public relations awards.

For nine years, I was employed as Communications Director for a large faith community, where I managed all aspects of internal and external communications. I was writer, editor, designer, web master, and content manager.

As such, I am experienced and comfortable writing multimedia for a broad variety of industries, products and services.

I joined IVY Marketing Group in 2013, when I began writing client press releases on a freelance basis. I loved the work—and my teammates—so much, I was thrilled when I was invited to come on board in a greater capacity.

I have immensely enjoyed getting to know our valued clients in the senior housing industry, the people they serve, and telling the many wonderful stories that come out of content marketing done right—with the love and care our IVY teams puts into everything we do.


It all starts with one idea. Working with the Ivy creative team for over two decades has always meant taking one great idea and bringing it to life to help our clients meet their goals. We enjoy the challenges offered with every creative opportunity and try to make the design process itself enjoyable for our clients.


Making certain that the projects IVY produces are word- and picture-perfect is my specialty. But I also love implementing marketing campaigns and programs that bring our clients success. Details are my thing, so it is a pleasure to have worked with IVY twice now, first after college four years ago and, recently, for the past two years.

The IVY Group is a terrific team of creative, positive and talented professionals that I love working with and, judging from the length of stay of our clients, I think they love our team, too!


Rock-climbing, training for an 80-floor stair climb event, running a 5K…This is just a tiny peek into what people 20 and even 30 years older than I am, are doing on a fairly regular basis at some of the retirement communities that IVY represents.

I’m of the generation that still has reoccurring nightmares about what the next step looked like when my grandmother could no longer live by herself. The very best option at that time was living at a “facility” and  included eating rubbery chicken and playing an occasional game of BINGO. Period. That’s why my parent’s generation begged us not to ever put them into “one of those places.”

I am so proud that IVY’s clients are at the very forefront of an industry that creates opportunities, challenges, and most of all freedom for seniors, allowing them to explore hobbies, interests, passions…the next chapter of their very full lives.

I feel reassured for my own future. Even more, I feel honored to be able to share the impactful stories about this paradigm shift in the world of senior housing. What we hear and see at our clients’ communities is fascinating and inspiring!


Keeping up to date on new public relations strategies, online engagement tactics, and promotional tools is my passion.

With my hospitality background in marketing top Chicago restaurants and hotels, I was eager to bring fresh concepts and communication strategies to our clients and have really enjoyed learning various industries.

Our clients have such exciting and unique events and programs, which really makes it motivating for me to make the most of their content.  Results like increased sales leads, website visits and social media connections make everyday rewarding and interesting.


I oversee, plan and implement projects and processes at IVY.  Often,  I am the conduit between our writers and designers, with printers, and other vendors to fulfill the marketing needs for our clients. I also manage media buys and coordinate production of advertisements.

Working for a flexible and fluid company that is constantly growing, changing and evolving is fun and rewarding. There is always something new to learn.


My bio has a big blank in the beginning—Mom and Dad rescued me in Wisconsin, and no one really knows my origins. They were probably ruff. What matters though is where I am now, running IVY Marketing Group. There are humans here who think they’re in charge. In truth, they do actually have amazing experience in content marketing and public relations, but I’m super important and the center of attention. I mean, look at this face. Right? And I know I’m the top dog because honestly, I’m the only one allowed to sleep through staff meetings and eat things that people drop on the floor.

The fact is though that I truly love staying awake at staff meetings. Everyone talks and laughs and they’re always excited. That surprises me a little because it’s not like anyone has thrown a ball to play fetch or anything. But I guess what gets my pack of peoples’ tails wagging is their work and their clients. I don’t know what a website or a blog is, but I do know that my pack must be good at them because they’ve earned all sorts of awards for these and other things. My bed had to be moved because the framed certificates were taking up so much room. Despite the inconvenience, I’m proud of these awards!

I serve several important purposes at IVY. I always let Mom (and the world) know when the mailman is here. When people come into the office, just one (usually) quick non-invasive (usually) sniff, allows me to determine important characteristics…like if they had anything good for breakfast, own any pets (pet owners are the best!) or if they stepped in anything on the way in. (It’s sort of like me conducting a first job interview.) I generously share my tummy because I know people like to give it a good scratch. I always give kisses, whether one is feeling lonely or not. And I’m always happy to share someone’s meal, especially if they’re trying to lose weight. My pack describes me as being engaging, amusing, and entertaining. (When I hear a siren, I “sing” along and it makes them laugh.) NPR talks about the benefits of having a pet at the workplace. Studies show pets lower stress hormones and improve morale and productivity. I wholeheartedly agree that a dog in the workplace is the best thing since rawhide bones.

As for my pack of people at IVY…they are amazing and always make my tail wag!


I could not be more thrilled to work alongside the IVY team.

For over 25 years, I have been employed in top executive positions across the Chicago area and have consistently built profitable businesses, generated sales, and developed and launched new product lines.

Strategically positioning companies and commodities for growth is a strong suit I’m eager to bring to ResponderHub™, IVY’s new crisis communications solution. I’m also excited to help expand IVY’s reach in the senior marketing industry.

I believe people are more open than ever to thinking outside the box and looking at new ways to reach their customer base, while at the same time reducing their cost of sale. The senior industry is exploding, and IVY is perfectly positioned to respond to the need for innovative, quality content marketing services and effective crisis communications.


I love being able to use my skills to help improve other people’s lives, and with a growing elderly population, it’s important to create meaningful and user-friendly digital solutions to aid the senior living industry.I have a wide range of technology and design skills with a deep interest in Human-Computer Interaction– helping IVY provide outstanding web design and print design services. IVY has a long-proven track record of excellence, and I’m proud to be able to help carry on that tradition.