Why Full-Service Marketing Agencies are Becoming a Thing of The Past

Updated: Feb 22




Restaurants specialize in a specific type of cuisine for a reason. An award-winning pizza place, for example, would not also make Chinese food, tacos, and pan-seared foie gras.


Their specialization is their secret sauce. They've spent years learning how to make the best pizza, with the highest quality ingredients and are dedicated to continually improving their craft.


A marketing agency is no different. The best are those that specialize.


From email marketing and web development to influencer engagement and paid search, there are easily over 100 different marketing specializations that a full-service agency would need to understand to adequately support their clients.


That's a tall order considering that 73% of agencies are firms with fewer than 10 employees (source). It's impossible for the average agency to be an expert at everything and provide what most agencies call "full-service".


Understanding the myth of the full-service marketing agency.


There is a reason you don't see web developers that also specialize in video production. Just like you don't see a pizza place specializing in Chinese food. Full-service is mostly a myth.


There are amazing agencies who do incredible work but the one unifying trait is that they all specialize in their craft. They choose a specific area of marketing and dedicate their time and resources to fully understanding how to make their skills work for their clients.


Let's take a look at a real-world example we've run into many times.


Someone applies to work at Caliper Marketing and their resume looks stacked with experience. They've worked for years with clients in an agency setting on all different platforms such as paid search, display, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, even some landing page design and a ton of reporting knowledge. However, after being pressed during the interview they admit they also manage SEO, email marketing, and front-end web development. Even worse, they're the only one at their agency doing any digital marketing.


This is far more common than you would think.


An agency that touts themselves as "full-service" is essentially telling you they are generalists in everything and experts in nothing. It's a little like a plumber who is also a master electrician, carpenter, and architect. There is a reason they call these people "unicorns". (hint: they don't exist)


Finding the right marketing agency.


This is where the "full-service" agency model sounds great in theory. Instead of shopping around for a web developer, digital marketer, and graphic designer you can simply hire one agency to handle it all.


The reality is that unless you're paying top dollar, a full-service agency won't actually give you full access to their entire team. And, as we discussed, these team members wear a ton of hats, have a lot of clients, and won't be giving you the level of expertise (or time) you're expecting out of a seemingly reputable marketing agency.


When looking for a marketing partner ask a lot of questions about the team size, structure, the services they provide, and who at the agency handles these tasks. Ask for specifics. You want to know exactly who you'll be working with and what qualifications they have.


If you find that the same person handles a laundry list of various tasks in completely different areas of marketing then it's a sign that they're spreading their staff too thin and you're not getting expert service.


The one caveat is that if the agency, by design, only specializes in one area of marketing such as digital advertising, then don't be too surprised if they only have a handful of people that tackle a lot of tasks. The key difference is that all of those tasks are closely related and those people can therefore be experts in each.


Going back to our food analogy, we wouldn't expect a pizza chef to only make a couple of different types of pizza. Between crust types, toppings, sizes, and oven styles there a lot of different types he can make extremely well.


Also look for an agency that first asks questions about your business, goals, industry, challenges, and opportunities. This should tell you that they're strategic thinkers and not order takers. They're not just asking you what you want them to do, they're asking for all of the context so they can tell you how to run the best campaign possible and maximize your return on investment. You shouldn't have to tell an agency how to market your business - that is their job.


The advantages of a specialized agency.


By design, specialized agencies have a finite scope and therefore are not interested in being everything to everyone.


This provides you with the absolute best of the best in their respective specialty. You can be sure you have a team of experts who are qualified, certified, and dedicated to their craft if you're working with a specialized digital marketing agency.


Gaining multiple viewpoints from multiple experts is another advantage that often goes under the radar. It may sound more complicated to work with different companies for video production, print design, SEO, and digital marketing but you actually gain extensive insight and a sort of checks and balances.


Say a videographer takes amazing footage of your restaurant and the edited commercial looks stunning. An SEO expert is going to provide helpful tips on how to maximize visibility on YouTube and how to properly use the video on your website. And, a digital marketer may have editorial or technical suggestions in order to use the video in Facebook or Connected TV ads and maximize your ROI.


By working with a team of experts from different disciplines you form yourself a group of marketing superheroes.


The last, and maybe most important, advantage is that you only pay for what you need. Full-service agencies have a lot of overhead they need to account for in their fees. Even if you're not using all of their services you're certainly going to be paying for them. Your costs will likely be lower by working with various experts who will price based on the project or workload rather than going with a full-service agency that will tie you into an open-ended retainer with hours, fees, and services you may not need.


Ready to learn more?


Get in touch with our team. Let's chat and see if a specialized digital marketing agency would work best for your company.



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