The Smaller The Pond, The Bigger The Fish

Joe Erwin of Greenville, SC agency, Erwin-Penland wrote a piece for Ad Age on attracting creative talent to smaller markets.
He suggests mining the local talent pool for all its worth and employing PR tactics. He also suggests “investing considerable resources in promoting the surrounding area” as Erwin-Penland has done with “Food for Thought: A Convention of Unconventional Creativity.” This three-day celebration, co-sponsored by Michelin and BMW, brought together innovators from across the country.
I don’t have a problem with Erwin’s suggestions, but I do have some additional thoughts on the subject. The number one consideration for people considering a small market is quality of life. In Greenville, SC and other markets like it one has room to breathe, it’s easy to get to and from work and most importantly, it’s affordable.
The big drawback, as I see it, is there’s typically only one or two places to work in a small market. Technically, there are many more, but for top tier talent there’s one or two. Even bigger cities like Austin and Portland are one horse towns. So, if something goes wrong in a smaller market, you’re SOL.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Trueblood says:

    I’ve worked in two relatively small markets. I think it has benefits, especially if you’re in the early stages of your career.
    But the thing with small markets is that talented people tend to stay in their positions a lot longer, and their agencies try harder to keep them, because they’re not easily replaceable.
    Which makes it tough if there’s only a couple good shops in town and you’re not in one of those choice positions.

  2. Hmmm… as an employee of a creative company in Greenville I can honestly say that we have folks from all over the country beating down our doors. Experienced, talented people who are dying to get out of the big cities and big agencies.

  3. Spike brings up a good point. If the agency in question is doing great work, it could be located on the moon.

  4. Please allow me to add this one thought:
    If one person in a marriage/partnership lands one of these coveted positions, it seems that the remaining partner sometimes puts his or her career on hold (or settles for less-than-appealing work) due to the lack of desirable, professional jobs in his or her respective field.

  5. All good points. But I’d also add a word of caution to any established creatives who are considering leaving a big ad market for a smaller one:
    Your new Creative Director may be in a small market for a reason. One that has nothing to do with cheaper housing or a shorter commute. Proceed with caution. And if you see any red flags or your Spidey Sense tells you something’s weird during the interview, for God’s sake pay attention. Also, if they don’t already know how to sell good work consistently, don’t assume the only missing ingredient is you. Lastly, don’t mistake their strong desire to hire you (and your reel/portfolio) with a true understanding of how good work is created. As you know (and mediocre creatives don’t), it’s a lot easier to gush over good work someone else has labored over than it is to actually make it happen yourself.

  6. Second that notion says:

    You are absolutely right. Two and a half years ago I accepted a job at a place in a small market, mostly based on my perception that the place had a ton of talent and potential, along with a new creative director. The agency was below the quality that i could have gotten, but i saw a lot of potential.
    Fast-forward a year, and i had yet to produce anything that didn’t make me want to throw up. The second year, i was pissed and despondent, but not quite ready to throw in the towel.
    This past winter and spring, i’ve produced a magnificent ad campaign and another project which falls in the category of high literature and art.
    Just goes to show, you never know.

  7. Utter cluelessness and lack of ability is not limited to small markets. The worst agency I ever stepped foot in was located on N. Michigan Avenue.

  8. @secondthat: Kudos for hanging in there. Sounds like it’s finally paying off.
    @David: You’re absolutely right. Every big market has its share of lameness. Didn’t mean to imply that small markets are bad per se. There are definitely some diamonds in the rough out there. My point is simply that there’s an awful lot of rough. And some CDs stay in the Minor Leagues for a reason. Just something to keep in mind as you consider moving your entire household across the country vs. perhaps just moving your ass across town.