Gini Dietrich

Edelman Has a Brand Integration Boutique?

By: Gini Dietrich | October 6, 2010 | 

Arment Dietrich is a boutique marketing and communications firm. There are a lot of really good boutique companies. From Canada to Sweden to the U.K. and throughout the U.S., I can easily name the top 10, but Edelman is not among them. Sure they’re a top 10 firm, easily, in the world of large companies, but boutique? I don’t care how you skin it, that is not the appropriate category.

That’s why I was so surprised to read about Ruth, the Edelman “brand integration boutique” that combines every media channel (except media buying) and is named after the founder’s wife. I actually think the idea is great, if you can make it work without budget fights and “hogging” client work.

Before 9/11, I moved to Chicago to work for an ad agency because they wanted to integrate PR in order to offer full services. While the idea was benevolent, it didn’t work as well as we would have liked. There was A LOT of education of the advertising folks about PR and there was some education of the PR team about creative, direct, and media buying. There were fights about budgets and who deserved which piece of the pie. I can’t remember one instance that we actually did what was best for the client (not to say it didn’t happen – I just can’t recall). And then the country had a crisis and clients cut back and I left.

But that’s not the point. My point is Ruth is not a boutique anything. They have 70 employees and the backing of the largest independent PR firm in the world. That’s mid-sized. If we had 70 employees, no one would call us boutique, nor could we compete in that category.

Boutique, in my book, is a company that was started by one or two founders and was bootstrapped through growth. A boutique is a company that specializes in one thing, has a niche industry, and does it better than anyone else. A boutique is small (hence the name), but powerful in its own right. Ruth is none of those things.

I wish Ruth the best of luck. I really do. I hope, between this and their move to buy smaller firms, we all see an effect in our business’s growth. But, until Patrick McGuire (their head) lies awake in the middle of the night wondering how he’s going to make payroll or has to create process and procedure out of nothing or gets to define values and culture that don’t rely on a parent company, don’t call yourself boutique.

What do you think?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Nice, post, Gini. From Edelman’s perspective, they can call this group of folks a boutique. It’s tiny compared to their bigger picture. But, me thinks the label is wrong because it’s from THEIR perspective. This is very inward focused. A typical big agency, chest-beating type thing. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t a label include the market’s perspective?

    It would be interesting to know if current Ruth clients are stand-alone. Or are these current Edelman clients whose scopes have grown over time. My guess is this is the case. If they were stand-alone, would that help define a boutique? Maybe.

    I, too, wish ’em some luck as these kinds of moves help change the industry a bit. But I also worry for the other types of agencies that serve current Edelman clients. I can’t think this will help everybody to play nice in the sandbox. And can’t you see ideas being presented that no longer need other agencies around to execute ’em?!

    • Steve, you raise a REALLY good point about other agencies and working with Ruth. Having been at a global firm and working with partner agencies (heck, even other offices), I know how mean people get when their budgets might be messed with, even if it is in the best interest of the client.

      We’re really just speculating, but I would guess Ruth won’t work with other agencies and Edelman will try to keep them out of their dealings with partners.

  • Could not agree more. However, if Edelman would like to send some of their clientele to my bootstrapped PR agency just to make things legit…no, I didn’t think so. 😉

  • I agree, Gini. We have been called boutique, and we partner extensively with other boutique firms every day!

    We fit all your definitions, small, founded by my husband & I, specialize in a niche market (total custom programming) and heck yeah we believe we kick butt at it too!

    Other boutique firms in design, PR, social media, marketing reach out to us and we do the same. Personally I believe that boutique firms banding together tend to deliver a stronger, more custom solution to client needs.

    I too, wish them well, but like Alex said above if they would like to send any of their clients our way, or perhaps reach out to us for some kick butt custom coding, I would take their call! 🙂

    • ginidietrich

      @Jennifer Devitt So what do you think about a big firm doing what you say you do every day, but under one roof? Does that, then, make them boutique?

    • sydcon_mktg

      @ginidietrich No, I don’t think so…if they are doing all the same things but in house with a large staff thats the difference. My guess is they do way more than the 1 thing we specialize in….to me a boutique is “specialty shop” not just a smaller version of a big dog.

  • At a boutique firm, I know I’m going to find people who are all about me. The whole team is all about me “Oh look, Mimi’s here–yay!” Edelman being a boutique is like WalMart pretending to be the corner grocer. Understanding the agency side, it seems interesting that they’re willing to make the systemic shift to embrace the flexibility and tireless individual focus being a true boutique firm demands. Ruth will never be Gini, no matter how hard they try!

    P.S. I predict a wave of interesting comments here this afternoon. I’ll check back to see if I’m correct ; )!

    • ginidietrich

      @Mimi Meredith LOL! You know that if you worked with us, we’d even have a sign out front that says, “YAY! Mimi is here!”

  • ginidietrich

    Quick note: If you’re commenting on this page in Safari or Chrome, you’ll see the comments are all funky and lined up over the right sidebar. It works great in Firefox and Explorer so we’re trying to figure out the CSS/PHP/FTP/any other acronym you can think of to get it fixed. So comment away…and try not to be disturbed by how ugly it is if you’re in Chrome or Safari.

  • fransteps

    Thank you for this post. I agree with your premise about using the “boutique” label. What do you think they are reaching for? Their next move would be interesting to watch.

    • ginidietrich

      @fransteps I think the big thing they’re trying to achieve is integration of all marketing, advertising, and PR tools under one umbrella. It’s been tried many times before so it’ll be interesting to see if they achieve it by doing things a bit differently.

  • I’m with you on this. Perhaps they’re trying to embrace the culture of a boutique, but personally, I don’t see it working.

    • ginidietrich

      @Sushi I think it’s impossible to embrace the culture of a boutique when you really have no idea what it’s like to build a business from the ground up. The only person there who has a clue about that is Dan Edelman and he hasn’t been in the business for years.

  • rainesmaker

    Oh Gini, this reminds me of the “good,better,best” price point all owned by the same Mitsubishi under the hood. Adding the “boutique” moniker just “covers the spread.”

  • nimiparker

    for the information! Now I know what i will do the next time i travel.
    Looking forward to go to Thailand later this year! Thanks for some pointers!