An integrated agency: one that offers a combination of almost all marketing services – web build and design, email marketing, social media management, SEO, PR, PPC – and so on, under one roof. Specialist agencies, on the other hand, focus on one or two of these specialisms. Which type of agency is best equipped to guide your digital strategy?
For many brands, having a distinct and effective online presence is no longer a consideration, it’s essential. But clients still face the challenge of determining what kind of agency best suits their needs. The pull and comfort of a ‘specialist’ agency is often too strong to ignore. Here we explore how we answer this dilemma for clients and why we think that integrated agencies can more than hold their own, no matter what the brief.
We think that, for most brands, achieving digital success isn’t as simple as choosing to do a bit of PPC or SEO. Making a success of your online presence demands a multi-channel marketing effort, discovering what works for your business. Full-service agencies are best-placed to work cohesively, across departments, testing and adapting their approaches should something need changing quickly – finding the formula that works for you.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”
Can this be applied to digital agencies? Are full-service agencies trying to do too much, delivering a sub-standard job, when they should focus on being really good at one or two specialisms?
When choosing an agency, it’s perhaps intuitive to want to want what might be deemed ‘best of breed’; a partner that specialises in, and is fully dedicated to, one specific field. Single or dual-service agencies, keen to distinguish themselves vis-à-vis their bigger, full-service brothers, are always trying to steal a march – at least theoretically. After all, if that’s all they do, they’ll be pretty bloomin’ good at it, right? Perhaps – but there is another side to the coin…
“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”
Specialist agencies are more likely to fall into the trap of getting ‘lost’ in their niche, seeing your digital predicament through the prism of that specialism, insisting their tool is the right one for the job.
Matt Henkes, speaking to Marketing Tech News, argues that “specialists, by nature, can have a bias towards advocating their own field of expertise”. For brands who enlist the help of multiple, specialist agencies to cover all their digital needs, poor communication and rivalry between competing agencies can lead to “passive aggressive jostling” and an eventually compromised campaign.
Full-service agencies benefit from having all their specialists under one roof. Brief amendments or changes in pace and direction are communicable as quickly as technology allows, meaning your digital strategy won’t be hostage to Chinese whispers and a diluted communication chain.
Not only that, but there are hidden efficiencies with fully-integrated agencies. Everyone reads the same emails, is in the same meetings and takes part in the same discussions. In this way, specialists at full-service agencies are able to integrate their strengths to provide a bespoke, holistic strategy for your brand. To get slightly clichéd, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, elements such as PPC, SEO and PR are allowed to complement each other.
Pick ‘n’ mix marketing
Full-service are like a good old pick ‘n’ mix stall. Why leave yourself stuck with those white mice, when you can choose from jelly beans, snakes and foamy bananas?
Let’s say, for example, you want to try email marketing. You get in touch with an email marketing specialist agency; you invest time and money in conveying your aims and objectives, only to find that email marketing isn’t working as well as you’d hoped a few months down the line. This may be no fault of the specialist agency itself; it could be that it’s not what works for your audiences.
With full-service agencies, if one aspect of the marketing mix isn’t working, its use can be easily modified, or another more beneficial channel incorporated.
Full-service agencies simplify your life
Conveying your aims, key brand messages and concerns to an agency can be time-consuming. For clients with smaller internal marketing teams (or none at all), the holisticity of a full-service agency can make for a smoother, more consistent experience. One full-service agency means one point of contact and one team who fully understand your aims, branding and objectives.
If you have a large internal marketing team capable of cross-agency delegation, working with a collection of specialists may prove a possibility. However, for an increasing number of clients, especially those without in-house teams trained in the processes of agency management, this can prove to be an unnecessary burden. More agencies means more software, applications and email addresses to remember and more chance of your branding being lost in translation or misconstrued.
By eliminating this potential issue, full-service agencies make themselves “fit for the digital age, driven by clients fed-up with managing agency complexities” – at least according to Mike Fletcher.
Location, location, location…
“Choosing an agency is like picking a partner in life.”
You’ve probably heard it before – location is everything. You probably want to meet the people you’re entrusting your company’s marketing strategy to. If you scour your local and regional area, you’re probably more likely to find a full-service agency than a service-specific one. On the whole, full-service agencies are more accessible than their specialist brothers. For those who value face-to-face partnership, an accessible, beautiful location, set in the heart of God’s own country (cough cough, Harrogate) is certainly a bonus.
Full-service agencies can grow with you
Hopefully, you’re looking to grow your brand. If so, full-service agencies are your friend. If you hire a speciality agency, your needs may eventually grow outside of the niche they cover. Luckily, full-service agencies tend to be very scalable for their clients. As you grow, so can your retainer. If you need to mix it up, there’s a whole host of digital marketing services to choose from.
Even niche agencies are broadening their horizons…
Even self-proclaimed specialist agencies have been looking to branch out from their niche. This reminds us of the value that clients are placing on an agency that can nail all digital bases. As the digital landscape increasingly overlaps, so grows the demand for a joined-up, full-service approach.
That’s not to say full-service agencies cannot handle only one specific portion of a marketing campaign: PR, SEO or PPC, for example, can always be stand-alone (and perhaps integrated with other services at a later date).
They probably know your sector already
Contrary to what those in single-service agencies may want you to believe, there’s no rule saying that full-service agencies must employ staff with a less profound understanding of, or ability in, their chosen field. In fact, as we discussed, full-service agencies are often greater than the sum of their parts. They’re used to handle diverse briefs from a wide range of sectors. They’ll eat your campaign brief for breakfast.
Rounding up – where do we stand in 2018?
Clients want a flexible, scalable and simplified experience; something that full-service agencies are designed to provide.
It comes as a tacit admission of the popularity of full-service agencies that even specialist agencies are diversifying their toolboxes. As the digital landscape is set to mesh further in 2018, so grows the demand for a holistic, joined-up approach to digital marketing – the hallmark of the full-service agency.
If you think your marketing needs some attention, you fancy a change in direction or want to know more about how an integrated approach could benefit your brand, one of our knowledgeable team would love to speak to you. Don’t be shy – get in touch today!