“The world doesn’t need another lukewarm, jack-of-all-trades agency!”
Cindel (our CEO and co-founder) paced determinedly as she declared this to me 3 years ago. We were brainstorming our vision for Stage 6 in the mind-map riddled, coffee-cups-everywhere, sun-filled back room of her apartment on a summer Sunday afternoon.
It was a hard pill for me to swallow as a young creative director with aspirations of expressing myself across all manner of mediums. But she was right.
The full-service model was dead.
Alright, I may be exaggerating slightly as I look back. Even now there are some diversely talented agencies out there still doing outstanding and effective work. For most people though, the depth of expertise you get from a specialty agency offers far greater potential impact and ROI than can be achieved with a mid-sized agency who has chosen breadth over depth. Here’s why:
When an agency is all things to everyone, they can’t dedicate the time or people to becoming masters of any one craft, because they have to remain nimble across a range of service offerings. A specialty agency lives and breaths their chosen medium, and accumulates far more knowledge of specific tools and techniques available to them. They attack your challenges with a wider variety of tactics, and you consistently get a more unique approach.
It can be hard to understand this in concrete terms, so here’s an example of just one difference in depth when it comes to producing video content:
At a full-service agency, you work with a copywriter who understands how to apply marketing principles to language and create clever / compelling text. With a video-only agency, you work with a writer who not only understands how to apply marketing psychology, but who has studied film and television writing extensively. Unlike the generic copywriter, the specialist will have an intimate understanding of how to write a powerful story based on six-stage plot structure and colorful characters based on protagonist archetypes. This ensures the content is utterly engaging rather than just intriguing (or worse).
They’re more cost effective
A full-service agency carries overhead across every one of their service offerings, not just the ones that you need. The profit margin on your logo design project (for example) has to be large enough to also help pay for the social media manager’s salary on XYZ Company’s account (and for the office space to house the extra employees). With a specialty agency, you’re only paying for the services and team members you’re actually getting.
They don’t outsource
A lot of agencies don’t have the resources to execute in-house (especially when it comes to highly-specific crafts like video production). In this model, you’re either paying for two companies’ profit margins, or the agency will source out the work themselves and choose the resource that is most cost-effective for their own bottom line, rather than the most effective at ensuring results for you. When you have strategy and execution under one roof, you get a seamless experience, cost-effective outcome, and don’t risk the message being lost in translation from one firm to another.
For me, it was a difficult decision to specialize because I thought it would limit how much I could help people. What Cindel understood when we started out, and what I now realize, is that specialization actually unlocks an agency’s ability to make a transformative impact, not only on their clients, but on the customers you’re ultimately trying to communicate with.
For you, it may be equally hard to shift the way you think about your marketing. Finding a collective of talented agencies can also be an overwhelming endeavor. I wouldn’t ever tell you, then, that you should fire your agency of record tomorrow. Instead, try bringing in a specialist to take the lead on one of your marketing channels in collaboration with your existing agency. The impact of added depth will astound you.