Aarti Shah 05 Feb 2013 // 8:39PM GMT
The pressure for small and mid-sized agencies to have global reach has been mounting for years, most recently reinforced by PayPal’s RFP that, while focusing on North America, is believed to put heavy emphasis on each agency’s global scope. For some agencies, networks like PRGN or ION have, with varying success, helped. The downside to this approach, however, can be inconsistent work, communication and service across the network. This is why Airfoil’s recent decision to form exclusive regional partnerships is an intriguing one. I spoke to Janet Tyler, Airfoil’s co-CEO, about its exclusive affiliation with Babel in EMEA and Newell in Asia-Pac. Or as she says, "putting a ring on it." “Networks are so limited, especially when it comes to practice specialities,” she says. “They look at geography first and it’s not always about each agency’s speciality.” For its approach, Tyler says Airfoil considered more than 30 agencies, selecting Babel and Newell on a variety of factors, including expertise and the ability to “deliver the Airfoil experience” in all regions through shared practices and protocols. This is reinforced through weekly calls between the agencies. Tyler also points out that Airfoil strategically selected agencies that are smaller in revenue and office size to eliminate confusion as to which agency is leading the charge. Of course, there’s a business upside to having a vast network of partners. Most notably, the opportunities for shared business increases as the number of affiliates grows. But Airfoil’s approach seems to put forth some compelling solutions to deal with service variation issues. Tyler says, so far, a major sweet spot in this arrangement has been those mid-to-late stage companies in sluggish regions, like Europe, looking to tap into the relatively strong US market. Ultimately, this is the value of networks for smaller agencies. After all, for most small firms, these networks --- exclusive or not --- will not be their ticket into massive global RFPs. But instead, they position smaller firms nicely for a diversified portfolio to cushion against inevitable regional market fluctuations.