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One-Stop Shop or Specialist Agency?

February 15, 2021
Vine Digital
written by Vine Digital

To find the right digital agency, you need to know what your business needs. Here’s how to choose between a one-stop or specialist agency.

Having been in the digital marketing business for a few decades, we’ve come across this question many times. In fact, we’ve been on both sides of the equation ourselves. We’ve been employed as a specialist agency, as well as servicing multiple elements of a client’s digital needs. With the right choices and knowledge under your belt, an agency can help you reduce your workload and achieve great results.

When we’ve worked with other agencies, it’s often become a ‘too many cooks’ situation. In meetings, agencies vie for attention rather than thinking of the client’s needs. They all want to push their agenda so they can stay on the gravy train. When the meeting is done, each of the agency reps continue to undermine the others – only this time in private.

As you can imagine, this is a nightmare for the client to manage; not only are you trying to learn about SEO, PPC, CRM – you name it – you end up managing a horde of bickering children. And yes, we’ve seen this happen. While your needs are being addressed by these agencies on the surface, you can never be sure what the best course of action is. How could you? There’s no accountability. With multiple agencies, it’s easy for one to blame their poor results on another agency’s behaviours and strategies. For the client, the upshot is a loss of potential revenue and a huge bill at the end of each month.

You have to be extremely strong to manage multiple firms, and you have to know exactly what you can reasonably expect in terms of outcomes. Generally, marketing managers and directors with an agency background are able to nimble negotiate this environment. With the right resources and time to commit to multiple agencies, you can, in theory, create campaigns with stunning results.

The Cat Conundrum

Trying to gather all your advertising agencies in one room is like herding cats! We had several meetings booked with a big client who’d employed five separate agencies. On at least two occasions, for larger strategy presentations, two agencies arrived at one venue. And then another somewhere else, with the remaining agencies arriving at another venue. Each agency blamed everyone but themselves, resulting in a fair-sized headache for the client.

On a similar topic of scattered meetings, we found out that two agencies were both doing the same thing: display advertising. Both were targeting the same customers on the same sites, with the same ads – one via media buying and the other via Google Display Network. Basically, the client was paying twice for the same thing because neither agency was prepared to back down and let the other carry on.

Cringeworthy Behaviour From Adults Who Should Know Better

Multi-agency meetings always end up being a “big dick” competition. Each agency wants to be the most important, most aggressive, most impressive. As a result, they over-prioritise the importance that their channel plays in the marketing mix. It often doesn’t reflect what is best for the client.

Business owners often struggle to maintain a clear picture of their goals, as they’re pulled in many different directions. What’s even sadder is that, if you ask each agency about the goals of the client or campaign, you will get different responses – with very little knowledge of how each agency’s “slice of the pie” fits into the overall marketing objective.

Another hard-to-handle element of the multi-agency meeting is the excessive headhunting that occurs. Can you handle the heartbreak of losing your favourite marketing manager, who you have invested in and trained to know you and your brand? All of a sudden, they are pulled from your company to go and work on a bevy of other brands. If you have one in-house agency, the chance of them stealing your talent is no longer a risk.

One-Stop Flop

You might be thinking, then, that the solution is finding an agency with services across the board. If only it were that simple. Sadly, many multi-skilled agencies are great at a few things and passable at other items on their long list of services. While it’s certainly doable (we’ll explain how!), it can be tough to decipher which of these are which.

Spend time getting to the bottom of an agency’s offering. It’s a two-way street. An agency worth their salt will be doing just as much probing as you; any time your scrutiny is fobbed off or ignored, steer clear. If the agency in question has some strong core skills, stick with those. Don’t cave to the pressure of taking elements you don’t need.

Treat Them Like An Employee

It is perfectly acceptable to treat an agency like a prospective employee, by checking:

  • That their skills match your business’s needs.
  • That they fit the company culture.
  • Any references they can provide (meaning recent and detailed testimonials).

Pick up the phone and have a proper chat with the agency. This way, you can get a feel for how the agency works and where to set your expectations, all to determine whether they’re right for you and your business.

Digital Is An Environment

At Vine Digital, we don’t subscribe to the mainstream view of the specialist model. We believe that digital is an ecosystem – not a toolbox. You can’t employ one single element and have it work unless the other services are in sync. It stands to reason that agencies should be aware of this, so they can affect the environment on behalf of their clients, with maximum impact. When businesses are being built, a misunderstanding of the ever-changing climate will often result in a digital offering presented totally off-kilter. Here’s an example.

An entrepreneur starts a business selling widgets. He has a few clients, and so he decides that he needs a website – a place where people can find his services. With a limited budget to start with, the website is not a lot more than a landing page. Over time, the business’s offering increases and diversifies. Pages are added to the site as the reputation of the company grows. Because of this, orders start to roll in online, and a new page is added for orders. New products arrive and with it, more new pages.

Eventually, the website and digital side of things become concerns of their own because naturally, the original site couldn’t possibly deliver ROI to the same degree as a full digital strategy. There needs to be a considered approach to the creation of a specific digital ecosystem, which enables a pipeline for increased activity, returning customers, traffic to the website and at the end of the day, revenue.

When you find an agency who really looks after you, you gain the ability to achieve this. If you’ve overlooked the power and potential of digital, you’re not alone. Many do, and it takes an honest, skilful agency partner to show you the ropes. Rather than looking down our noses at those who need help, Vine Digital shows you how to navigate the digital landscape in a way that suits your business. Digital is an environment where each element affects another. Whether you opt for a specialist agency or a one-stop shop, you deserve an agency able to deliver in all areas they offer.

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