Choosing between generalist agency and one that has a specific skill set or specializes in your industry is a complicated decision that requires careful thought.

At this point, you know you want to work with an agency, and you've thought about the positives and negatives of working with someone local or remote. By now, you should have a preliminary list of agencies, but there are a few additional questions to consider before getting in touch.

Should you look for an agency that specializes in your industry?

Yes and no. I feel it’s beneficial to choose an agency that works in a lot of different industries but has some exposure or experience in yours. 

Agencies that Specialize in a Single Category or Industry Often Suffer from a Number of Deficiences: 

  • Talent - Top talent typically seeks some combination of variety and/or complexity in their work. Often, specialist agencies offer neither. This is especially true on the creative side. No top designer wants to design hotel, university, or hospital websites day in and day out.
  • Mediocre Output - Most agencies that specialize in a single vertical end up producing boilerplate strategies and outcomes, because the lack of diversity in assignments results in them developing the same solution for every client. The talent drain they face also increases the likelihood that they have developed systems for putting their process on rails and templatizing their solution.
  • Costs - Due to the nature of the work, these agencies can be forced to pay market or above market rate for second-tier talent. In addition, the specialist label and pitch allows them to charge prices equal to or above a generalist agency of the same quality.

 Image of a swiss army knife

Models of agency management: Skill Set Specialists vs Generalist Agencies?

It’s useful to think about how you would like your agency relationship to function in the broader context of your business and/or marketing department. This is true both in terms of how comfortable your business is with collaborating on broader business strategy such as the value proposition, positioning, and your product/service offering, as well as how various marketing activities are coordinated.

In larger organizations, agencies are commonly engaged by the marketing department and CMO, who may themselves have limited ability to influence bigger strategic considerations which are set by the CEO, Chief Strategy Officer, or other departments. In these cases, it’s important to communicate the amount of leeway the agency has in influencing the company’s offering, value proposition, and positioning.

Smaller or mid-sized companies may be underdeveloped in these areas. A new agency relationship may serve as a shot in the arm for properly framing and establishing the broader strategic vision in order to support marketing initiatives.

In Organizing Agency Relationships, It's Useful to Look at a Couple of Models: 

  • Lead Agency/Agency of Record - In this model, the company has a primary agency that coordinates strategy and is positioned as a business partner and steward of the brand. That agency may bring in specialist agencies as needed for specific initiatives. The company is responsible for managing a single, primary relationship with the lead agency.
  • Spoke & Wheel - In this model, the company engages independently with a number of ‘best of class’ specialist agencies and manages the overall strategic vision, need, and management of their various agency relationships. Interaction between the various agency partners is ad hoc to accomplish specific initiatives.
  • Ad Hoc - In this model, the company reaches out for specific needs to be executed by the agency.

conclusion

Experience in industry verticals is certainly important, but there are a few issues to consider when working with a specialist agency. Understanding what positives and negatives generalist and specialist agencies offer and how they work can help you make an informed decision.

 

Excerpted from Pitching a Fit: A Guide for Choosing the Right Marketing Agency by Chris Olberding.

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Chris Olberding Chris Olberding

Chris Olberding is a mediocre ukulele player who owns more Funko Pop figures than any grown man should. In spite of this, he has run a successful agency for the past 10 years by providing creative vision and strategic guidance to the S4 team. Chris has been recognized as one of Jacksonville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, and S4 has been named to the Gator 100, a list of the 100 fastest-growing businesses owned or run by a UF alumni, for the last two years.

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