Why full service agencies don’t work

After running specialist service agencies for over fifteen years, I thought it was time to put down my thoughts about how full service agencies just don’t work.

So what’s a full service agency?

Full service agencies are ones that try to run everything under one roof, offering a myriad of contrasting and difficult advertising services to clients.

A quick search of Google Australia shows many firms are using the term “full service” in vastly different ways.

For example there’s a “Full Service Creative Agency”, the “Full Service Creative Advertising Agency”, a few saying “Full Service Advertising Agency” and also a “Full Service Digital Advertising Agency”.

Shouldn’t they all be just “Full Service Agency” as doesn’t the term full service mean just that, full service including all areas of advertising and marketing?

For me, it just doesn’t work. I strongly believe to be the best in your industry you need to specialise in one or a few specific areas, and here’s why.

It’s all too big for one agency

In advertising there’s a huge range of different areas to cover, understand and then be experts in.

From TV advertising, radio advertising, creative thinking, creative design, design for brochures, design for websites, development for web apps, development for web databases, search engine optimisation, search engine marketing, social media marketing, copywriting, content marketing, public relations, project management, account management, people management, general management plus many more it’s an industry of vastly different roles.

And as you can see, there are many conflicting specialisations. Some are bundled into the traditional areas of advertising and some into new media such as digital services. And each one needs roles and teams running them.

To try to fit all of these different roles in one organisation just doesn’t cut it.

A full service agency will likely be very strong in one particular area, but weaker in other areas. They might have the physical people in all the roles, but the quality of service offered might differ from one area to another.

So why is this the case?

The reason, it’s all about the leadership DNA and where they came from…

If the founders and management of the agency come from a traditional marketing or media background such as TV, radio or print, they’ve likely grown up and been wired into a set way and process of doing things for their industry.

And often these don’t fit other areas in the business.

For example, leaders from traditional backgrounds trying to offer new media, technical and digital services.

Likewise if you’re from the digital side, it’s often a tough ask to natively comprehend the traditional side including creative, art direction or the nuances of media buying.

A good article on Smart Company by Mark Freidin highlights this by saying:

” Agencies have jumped on the lucrative web development bandwagon, but agencies are not online retailing or eCommerce experts and more often than not produce beautiful websites that win awards, but are slow, cumbersome and have minimal traffic and conversion.”

Clients want specialists, not lightweights

Today clients are also savvy to this and understand that one stop shops don’t work.

After looking at the success of industry specialists, many clients are keen to go out to varying specialists and project manage these suppliers to get their desired outcomes.

The clients that are persisting with a one-stop-shop agency are starting to see that the full service agency might have a solid offer in one area, but not in others. And the main one where many full service agencies are struggling is in digital. In particular, search and digital marketing.

Successful full service agencies are doing it like this…

At Reload Media we partner with some great full service advertising agencies here in Queensland, all over Australia and globally.

These successful agencies market themselves as full service, but where they differ to the rest is that they have a great organisational awareness to see that they need to partner with specialists in certain and specific areas.

They don’t put up “smoke and mirrors” and pretend that they can offer it all, especially in the areas of search and digital marketing.

And they’re also joining Reload Media strategists into the digital discussions and sessions from the outset of a project. And this helps set the goals and expectations for the clients from the very beginning which is a smart thing to do.

Clients love transparency and this transparent partnering model between our partners and Reload Media benefits everyone.

 What do you think? Do full service agencies work?