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When choosing a digital marketing agency or partner, a common dilemma is whether to select specialist agencies to handle each area or to choose one full-service agency and have all your marketing under one roof.

In this simple breakdown, we review the benefits of a full-service agency vs a specialist agency whilst also considering some of the disadvantages too.

So, let’s start at the beginning…

What is a full-service agency?

A full-service agency typically can handle all of your digital marketing needs from website design through to advertisement. This can cover a wide range of disciplines and means your website is managed in one place.

What is a specialist agency?

A specialist agency focuses solely on the areas they are expert in. Whether that’s branding or SEO, opting for a specialist agency means you are benefitting from a specific set of services that elevates the general marketing offer.

In digital marketing, there are many different types of agency that fall into the sliding scale of specialist through to full-service, and this incorporates many disciplines including:

Digital marketing agencies may incorporate multiple disciplines, such as email marketing, biddable media, social media marketing and SEO.

Digital agencies can cover just one of these services, a combination of these disciplines (relating to digital marketing, or website design and development), whilst others offer an all-in-one full-service offering. With so many disciplines to consider, it’s difficult to understand what your business really needs to be seen and get found online. Many businesses often opt for a full-service agency, simply because it’s the less daunting option, you can deal with one person and pay one monthly bill. But will that get you the results you’re looking for online?

Let’s look at the benefits to give you a better grasp on what’s the right fit for your business.

Benefits of a full-service agency:

  • Streamlined communication.
    With a full-service agency, there is often just one point of contact and one agency to integrate and brief. This means less time spent getting hold of a number of third-party agencies to understand the cogs which are driving your website growth. However, communication would need to be tightly managed in a full-service agency as that one contact is often responsible for delivering messages across a number of different departments and teams, with the danger that those messages may get lost in translation as it moves from person to person.
  • One bill or invoice.
    You can have a simple picture of your monthly spend with a full-service agency. A key consideration here is how concerned about your return on investment are you? Full-service agencies often bill you a general monthly spend whilst specialist agencies give you the added benefit of a more granular indication of spend vs revenue to help you understand exactly what channels are performing.
  • Scalability.
    As your account develops over time, your digital marketing needs vary, and often – grow. With a full-service agency already in place, scalability of the campaign is a much smoother process. For example, you have finally got the engine of your website running effectively and it’s now producing the results you are looking for. To really take it up a level, a facelift to improve user experience is the next step. A full-service agency already has the resources and expertise available to call on their developer and designer and come up with the goods. No need to start a fresh hunt for a design agency as the full-service agency already has the skills the client requires.

There are also a number of disadvantages to consider too:

  • Jack of all trades is master of none.
    It’s a famous saying, but a relevant one. Typically, specialist agencies tend to be much better at their specialist skills, rather than an agency that tries to do everything. A full-service agency tends to offer a bit of ‘everything’ with no real focus on a discipline, resulting in a diluted service.
  • A less cohesive workforce.
    Just as there are different disciplines, the people who perform those different disciplines tend to be very different. A web developer is a totally different character than a web designer, just as a content writer tends to be very different to a technical SEO. Whilst an agency can deal with a certain amount of different personality types, too many can cause unproductive conflicts.
  • There’s no accountability.
    If there is a problem or performance isn’t meeting client expectation, a full-service agency may be reluctant to hold their hands up. There can be a tendency for the spokesperson in a full-service agency to gloss over issues where they have failed as there is no-one to account to. That’s where the buzzwords and marketing speak comes in, in attempt to cover up any mistakes by speaking a different language to keep you confused, but on side.
A digital marketer sat at his desk while on the phone to a client. Effective communication is a major benefit of a specialist digital marketing agency.

Benefits of a specialist agency:

  • Delivering you a high-quality service in the areas they are expert in.
    It sounds cliché, but specialist agencies try to refine their offering as much as possible in order to stay on top of their game in their chosen field. As Laura Sheridan puts it, “full-service agencies are typically busy cross-selling their services rather than being true experts in any particular area.” Full-service agencies contain a lot of moving parts which often means they lose sight of what’s important – making a business visible online. Specialist agencies keep it simple, and keep it distinguished to really showcase their expertise in their given niche.
  • They can communicate effectively.
    Whilst you may benefit from one point of contact with a full-service agency, a specialist agency is experienced in communicating with not only you as a trusted partner, but also with other third parties too. Specialist agencies understand what they’re good at and when there is a need to engage in outside help. They are not interested in trying to do a bit of “this” or “that” in order to gain a bit of extra work, they simply want to do the best job possible within their chosen expertise. They understand when the client’s needs grow outside of their areas of expertise and they are open to engage with other agencies to do what’s best for the client.
  • Additional perspectives.
    Many specialist agencies work with a number of different partner agencies, organisations and freelancers as part of their daily work. This means they can provide you with a much more nuanced perspective as they are capable of retaining the expertise gained from their partners but also consult on their specialist area too. Often, specialist agencies can sit in on your meeting and offer valuable input, often providing new insights and opportunities.

And the disadvantages?

  • There can be a danger that a blame culture may develop.
    When everything is going swimmingly, every specialist agency is just quietly getting on with the job in hand. However, as soon as an issue arises or the performance of the overall account takes a hit, there’s a risk the blame game may kick in. It’s easy for each specialist agency working on the account to shift culpability to the other party, but if you choose the right agencies, they will work together well and challenge each other. If you use a range of good specialist agencies, they will each do their job well, whilst provide a counter check (and alternative sounding board to the client) on the other agency’s work, holding each other to account.
  • The client is responsible for juggling agencies.
    If you opt for a specialist agency, chances are you’ll have to recruit more than one to cover the breadth of services you require. That means extra work for you to stay on top of multiple reports, keep in touch with multiple contacts and ensure the work of multiple agencies is complimenting each other rather than harming the overall marketing effort. Again, if you choose the right specialist agency, who is comfortable with partnering up and communicating effectively, this can take a lot of extra work away from you as the communication and synergy between the parties is built behind the scenes.
  • Initial outlay of costs may seem steeper.
    Yes, it’s true. Choosing a number of specialist agencies in favour of one full-service agency may mean you have to dig a bit deeper into your pockets to begin with. However, if you opt for the right specialist agencies, with the right expertise, the return on investment will be much greater and your website will benefit much more in the long run.

Whilst there are a number of considerations to make when choosing the right digital marketing agency, the most important factor is that the right fit is a partner who can satisfy your objectives and you can manage that as part of an effective, holistic effort. That may be a full-service agency, a specialist agency or an agency that fits somewhere in the middle but as long as they have the success of your business in mind at all times, it’ll be the right fit for you.