Find Your Agency Soulmate: A Guide to Selecting an Agency Partner
Integrated or Specialized—We’ll Help You Find Your Agency Soulmate
By, Nicole Bojic, Group Executive, Strategic Solutions Group
If you’re in the market for a new agency or questioning whether your current agency is capable of more, there is certainly no shortage of options from which to choose. But having so many options can actually make the job of finding the right agency more daunting. And with so much change happening in your business, and in the industry in general, it’s hard to keep up. It’s an increasingly noisy world out there, and you have a lot to get through to your audiences.
To help you zero in on the right choice, you first need to determine whether an integrated agency or a boutique/specialized agency is the best fit for you.
Follow the path below to find the answer, and then continue reading to learn more about what you should consider when selecting an agency partner.
Digging Deeper into Agency Characteristics
The simple decision path above is a good way to begin to narrow the types of agency partners that might work well for you. Digging in a bit deeper, you’ll want to consider characteristics in four main areas, including offering, breadth and depth, service model, and cultural fit.
Choosing a new agency partner may seem like a daunting undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you already have a strategy set and just need to execute in a single area, then a boutique agency can often deliver just what you need. For example, you may have an event project where all you need is the registration piece. Or you might only need live social media support on show days. In these cases, hiring an agency that specializes in event registration or social media will likely provide the right balance of experience and cost for these situations.
However, if you are looking to plan and execute an integrated campaign across multiple channels—say, marketing via experiential and traditional media—you can benefit from having access to all of these services within one agency. You can leverage one agency for strategy and planning, creative and design, production and implementation, and account service. You’ll only need to bring one agency up to speed, which means less time lost for you while getting more proactive solution recommendations from your agency. You’ll also present a more cohesive and holistic campaign to your customers.
2. Breadth and Depth
Although not always the case, usually a boutique/specialized agency will be smaller than an integrated agency. In addition to fewer people, they’ll also likely have fewer locations. If you like to keep it small and your needs are not geographically diverse, a boutique/specialized agency could make a cozy partner for you.
However, if you are a larger/growing organization or you are planning a larger/growing event or campaign, then you will likely benefit from an agency that has the size and presence needed to scale with you. This allows your agency partner to look more holistically across all marketing efforts and to help measure success against business outcomes. A campaign and event strategy should never be something you “set and forget” but something you are consistently trying to and measuring against other activities in your business.
Your CMO cares most about how all of their marketing initiatives are tied together to deliver on your brand. An agency partner that helps shape, create and manage the execution of these programs will also have the ability to think about how your content strategy ties together, and where to find efficiencies/successes/opportunities across your campaign and event portfolio.
3. Service Model
Different agencies offer different service models, but it’s rare that a smaller boutique/specialized agency will have the resources to dedicate staff to a client account. Because their work is often project-based, these resources typically work across multiple accounts. That means clients get the resources that are available at the time they are needed, and that may not always be the same account exec, designer, writer, producer, etc. that you know and love.
Conversely, integrated agencies typically have a service model that enables them to dedicate a consistent team to a client and/or project, becoming a true extension of their own team. This relationship creates a deeper and better understanding of their client, the brand and their audience. So, when different marketing programs present different needs, your agency partner already has the insight and experience to tackle them easily and efficiently. The time to onboard a project is reduced and solutions are addressed more holistically, so you can realize long-term savings.
4. Cultural Fit
Although not limited to one agency type or another, cultural fit might be the most important characteristic of all since it defines the way you will partner with your agency. After all, it is ultimately what will determine relationship success and will be driven by mutual respect and trust. If you are to trust an agency partner to be an extension of your team, you need to start by aligning your cultural values and needs.
Ask yourself if you are looking for a partner who will simply execute or one who will supportively challenge you with new ideas and ways of doing things. If you have an in-house strategy and creative capabilities, you may just be looking for someone to follow directions and execute flawlessly. You might also be in a highly regulated industry such as healthcare and finance, which can inhibit the ability to push boundaries. In these situations, you need a partner who understands your way of working, your unique risk thresholds.
On the other hand, often when clients express concern that their current agency’s ideas and creative are stale, it may be because the current paradigm doesn’t encourage taking risks when it makes sense to do so. When there is mutual trust and cultural alignment, creatives are more willing to challenge themselves to do new and exciting things.
Finally, when there is a good cultural fit, there is typically harmony across teams. People want to work with partners they like, those who uplift them and make them successful. When this harmony is achieved, the relationship becomes a true partnership instead of a transaction.
Now’s the Time
Choosing a new agency partner or deciding to challenge your existing partner with more can feel like an overwhelming, time-consuming endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. Use the tips here to guide your process, or better yet, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can guide you through the entire process and help you find your agency soulmate so you can do your best work.