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Big Fish, Small Pond

Posted: April 16, 2015, 3:00 p.m.

by Annslee Wilson.

Bigger is better — or at least that is what public relations students are often told. When it comes to choosing career paths, PR students sometimes confine themselves to one path. The idea of working in a global agency is the goal of many. While this path has proven to be an exciting, yet challenging career choice, it is certainly not the only option for recent graduates who desire an agency setting. Behold, the PR boutique firm.

Boutique agencies take on the same duties as large global firms, but on a somewhat smaller scale. AdWeek gives five major differences between large firms and boutique firms — size, access to executives, variety of skill set, viewpoint and the number of responsibilities for each employee.

4331012486_620010cd4b_oJay Sheridan is the owner of Sheridan PR in Franklin, Tennessee. After working at the largest firm in Tennessee for six years, Sheridan moved on to work at a healthcare technology company as the director of communications. In 2009, Sheridan moved his talents to a firm of his own, where he and his team represent a diverse set of clients.

“We’d like to think that we’re better, faster and cheaper than a lot of big firms,” Sheridan said. “Nearly all of our clients are retainers, and we serve as their marketing and communications department. We over-service our clients significantly, but it makes sense because we can plan from a revenue standpoint.”

Boutique firms typically have less than 20 employees, and larger firms can go beyond 75 employees per location. Employees at boutique firms are much more close knit than those at larger firms. They also have more access to the senior executives, while employees in larger firms may never interact with the firm’s president or CEO.

Another component of the boutique firm is often the relaxed atmosphere.

4118184308_1ccb3f1635_o“[Our office is] young, fun, energetic, driven. We’ve got a fantastic team assembled,” Sheridan said. “Everyone gets along, works together and finds a way to win. Because we’re so close, we avoid a lot of the politics and backbiting that might occur in a larger environment. I think we all consider each other friends, which makes for a great work experience.”

Sheridan said that the firm has surpassed his initial goals. He is ready to grow the impact and reputation of his firm, broaden its reach to both regional and national clients, and offer his staff more opportunities for continued growth and success.

Last month, Sheridan received the Nashville Business 40 Under 40 award, which recognizes the top 40 Nashville professionals under the age of 40.

“It was a tremendous honor, and I’m blown away by the amount of attention it has generated,” he said.

With the larger size that global firms present comes a wider skill set. These agencies are able to support larger teams for each account, and employees also are able to have access to mentorships and guidance. Larger firms might represent more “bigger name” accounts. The down side to this would be that the team might never get to work with this client face to face in the conference room, but rather might have to rely on numerous conference calls for frequent communication.

Boutique agencies often represent several local accounts, allowing their teams to be more personable with their clients. Employees at larger firms might only work on one or two accounts. Employees at boutique firms may have a hand on each account, allowing for more variety of tasks throughout the day.

Margie Korshak founded her boutique firm in 1969, and has since become one of the leading boutique firms in Chicago. Her first clients were the Sherman Hotel and the Better Boys Foundation. She and her team of 15 now represent several entertainment, hospitality, nonprofit, consumer and tourism clients.

“Because we are smaller, we are able to give better service to our clients,” Korshak said.

Despite being in a city where global PR firms are present, Margie Korshak Inc. has represented several “big name” clients, including McDonalds, Southwest Airlines, Gap and Chanel.

It is important for students and recent graduates to evaluate their career options. Both boutique and global firms offer employees endless opportunities. However, some people may be better suited for a smaller, more intimate setting, while others might thrive in a more fast-paced setting with more specialized tasks.

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