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Published: 9th February 2021


One-Stop Shop or Specialist Agency?

Written by: Cillian Bracken Conway
Read Time: 7 Min| 423

This is a common issue that we come across and experience regularly. We have been employed as a specialist and have had to sit round with a bunch of other agencies.

As you can imagine, it can quickly become a ‘too many cooks’ situation. You could potentially be sitting with an SEO agency, PPC, CRM—you name it—and all of them are vying for attention. All of them desperate to push their
agenda and ensure that they stay on the gravy train.

It makes it very difficult for the client to manage, and when the meeting is done, each of the agency reps continue to undermine the others, only this time in private. The problem for the client is that they can never be sure what
the best course of action is with regards the brand and the proposition.

You have to be extremely strong to manage multiple firms, and your understanding of the environment and potential outcomes has to be spot on. The other issue is that, should the agencies become abrasive to one another,
the client becomes like the parent trying to manage the bickering children. We’ve actually seen this happen, and it was tragic.

Accountability also becomes an issue. Digital marketing is a landscape, and therefore with multiple disciplines and knock-on effects, it’s really easy for one agency to blame their poor results on another agency’s behaviour or strategy.

The upshot for the client is ultimately a loss of potential revenue and a huge bill at the end of each month. That’s not to say that managing multiple agencies cannot be done. If you know the landscape well enough yourself and have the resources and time to commit to multiple agencies, you can, in theory, create stunning campaigns that generate incredible results.

The marketing managers and directors that are able to do this generally come from an agency background. Aware of the pitfalls, they can nimbly negotiate their way through.

The Cat Conundrum

Trying to congregate all your advertising agencies in one room is like herding cats!
We had several meetings booked with a big client that had employed five separate agencies. On at least two occasions, for the larger strategy presentations, two agencies arrived at one venue, and then another somewhere else, with the remaining two agencies arriving at another venue. Each one blamed the other and caused a considerable headache
for the client.

In a similar scenario, there were non-cohesive meetings where we found out that two agencies were both doing the same thing—display advertising. One via media buying and one via GDN but both are targeting the same customers on the same sites with the same ads.

Basically, this meant the client was paying twice for the same thing. Then, to compound the issue, neither agency was prepared to back down and let the other carry on. Double headache for the client!

Multi-agency meetings also always end up being a big competition. Each agency is trying to be more important, more aggressive, more impressive than any other agency.

Subsequently, they over-prioritise the importance their channel plays in the marketing mix. It often deviates from what is best for the client and ends up being an agency attempting to line their pockets. In this scenario, we’ve seen
some of the most cringeworthy behaviour from adults who should know much better.

Unfortunately, when using multiple agencies, it is often easy to lose sight of the big picture and marketing goals that caused you to initiate the process in the first place. What’s even sadder is that, if you ask each individual agency what the goals of the client or campaign are, 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. It very often means that your favourite marketing manager could be snapped up by an agency. All of a sudden, they are pulled
from your company to go and work on a bevy of other brands.

Can you handle the heartbreak of losing your marketing manager, who you have invested in and trained to know you and your brand? It could be devastating. If you have one in-house agency, the chance of them stealing your talent is no longer a risk.

One-Stop Flop

If only it were as simple as just finding any “multi-skilled agency” who then, by default, can deliver across the board, really look after you and deliver a ton of ROI. Sadly, lots of multi-skilled agencies are great at a couple of things and only okay at the others on their long list of services.
Deciphering which of these is which is extremely tough.

As a marketing manager/director, you have to be willing to spend your time getting to the bottom of their offering. It’s a two-way street. A good agency will be doing as much probing as they can and you should be doing the same.

Any time your scrutiny gets fobbed off or ignored, then it’s a red flag. If the agency in question have some really good core skills, stick with those. Of course, they may pressure you to take on elements you don’t need. You have to have the strength to say no.

Treat Them Like An Employee

When engaging with an agency, it is perfectly acceptable to treat them as you would any prospective employee. You check that the skills match well, and you check that there is a cultural similarity; and, of course, get some references.

In the case of the agency, these should be recent and detailed testimonials. When you get these, it’s also worth picking up the phone and having a proper conversation with the client. Then you can get a feel for how the agency work, where to set your expectations and really determine whether they are a fit for you and your business.

Digital Is An Environment

We don’t subscribe to the mainstream view of the specialist model—we believe that digital is an ecosystem, not a toolbox. Therefore, you can’t simply employ one single element and have it work unless the others are in sync. It stands to reason that agencies should be aware of this and offer multiple services so they can affect the environment on behalf of their clients.

When businesses are being built, a misunderstanding of the environment means that often the digital offering being presented is completely out of kilter.

It’s totally understandable. An entrepreneur starts a business and sells widgets. He has a few clients and decides he needs a website, so he builds a place where people can find his services. With a limited initial budget, the website is not a lot more than a landing page.

Over time, the widget offering increases and diversifies, pages are added to the site and the reputation of the firm increases. Orders begin to come in online based on the company’s reputation. So a new page is added for orders.
New products arrive and so do more new pages.

Eventually, the website and the digital offering become their own concerns because, naturally, that initial site cannot possibly deliver on the potential that a full digital strategy could deliver. Therefore, there needs to be a considered
approach to creating a specific, digital environment that can create a pipeline for sales, increase activity and traffic to the website and become a vehicle for generating revenue.

Overlooking the power of digital and its vast potential can easily creep up on a company, and we don’t look down our noses at those that need help—we understand, and that’s what we are here for: to help you understand the landscape and create an environment that works for you.


Key Takeaways

• Think carefully about your needs. Do you need separate agencies?

• Carefully consider the agencies you are thinking about employing. Can they deliver on all of the services they offer?

• Your digital offering is what it is, and agencies should be honest and open about what needs doing and when it’s best to do it.

• Digital is an environment and each element affects another, so you need a solution that works for the whole, not for one single element.

This is an excerpt from our book "How to Choose a Digital Agency You Can Trust" which will be published at the end of March 2021.


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