Think Small

Growth can be a dangerous thing.

Growth is a necessity, of course. Modern companies know that if your revenue isn’t consistently on the rise, if your pipeline isn’t constantly being filled, then you’re sticking your chin out for a knockout punch.

But growth, while necessary, also changes a company. And not always for the better.

Years ago, I worked at a startup agency as its creative director. At first, I knew each client personally and was intimately involved in every campaign. But within a year, we’d grown rapidly — from eight people to 38. So, while still a relatively small company, our entire DNA had shifted. Suddenly, I had no choice but to delegate projects to creative teams, sometimes with only the smallest amount of oversight.

Don’t get me wrong: The agency did excellent work. My creative team was top-notch. The results always came in strong. But, each project/campaign wasn’t getting the level of care it deserved.

It’s like the difference between raising two kids and raising six: The latter family can certainly be happy and healthy, but each kid can’t possibly get the same level of 1:1 attention from their parents.

It’s not necessarily about intention; it’s just about how many hours are in a day.

The Fazioli Piano company creates, arguably, the best pianos in the world. Founder Paolo Fazioli oversees this small operation, which produces about 140 handcrafted pianos each year. Each one is built from only the finest materials — like wood derived from 200-year-old red spruce trees that grow in a neighboring village — and can take nearly three years to build. They sell for upwards of $200,000. Custom models can reach half a million.

“I have in my contract that I will only play a Fazioli piano,” said jazz legend Herbie Hancock, in a recent interview with CBS Sunday Morning. To him, there is no equal. “He [Paolo] can’t make them fast enough,” Hancock said.

Per the segment:

That’s by design. Paolo Fazioli told us he wants to be able to test each one. After employees left for the day, we found the 76-year-old still at work.

“There are some pianos that are generally very powerful. Some of the pianos, they are more sweet,” Paolo said. “You must follow the character on the piano.”

That concept — of following the character of something — is something any good marketer can understand.

Every client, product and audience is different. Every marketplace has its own opportunities and challenges. You must tap into all of that. You must follow the “character” of an initiative to see its potential to the fullest and deliver everything possible for the client.

That simply can’t be done if you’re too big.

Yes, a 38- or 50- or 200-person agency can do a great job. Many do. And, as their client, you’d probably never notice the difference. But as IMA’s founder and creative director, I don’t really feel comfortable working without that intimate relationship with the client, without following the “character” of each project, without personally ensuring that we’re exploring every angle and leaving everything on the floor to make the work as effective — and singular — as humanly possible.

So, if you ever want to reach me after hours, go ahead and send me an email ( I’ll be the old guy who stayed late to check on the campaigns.

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