In this guest piece, Men At Work Communications managing director Adam Mumford (pictured) argues why now is the time for uber-specific agencies to develop diverse abilities in their offerings.
The full-service agency’s second coming is in full swing. While modern full-service businesses look nothing like those of the 20th century, we are nevertheless witnessing the emergence of the agency that claims to do it all. And in the marketing game, that’s a hall of a lot – creative, media, search, social, production, PR, and so on.
The impetus is clear – clients are getting sick and tired of dealing with so many fragmented specialists, and agencies want to leverage the increasing range of marketing skillsets and earning opportunities.
But where does that leave the proudly specialist agency, the business that has earned its place within a particular marketing niche? It’s clear the tides are turning, and specialists need to get on board. This is the full-service halo effect, and even those agencies who are proudly niche had better take note or risk losing clients.
In no way am I suggesting here that everyone suddenly needs to become full-service and offer everything, but this new landscape does mean that formerly uber-specific agencies now need to develop diverse abilities in their offerings. This has become a competitive prerogative.
Take our agency. Men At Work began largely offering PR, but over the past three years we have gradually evolved, first into content marketing, creative and social media, and then into SEO, performance media, digital production, design, influencer engagement, UX and business consulting.
We’re now calling ourselves ‘digital full-service’, but that’s not to say all agencies need to go full-on full-service to keep pace.
What agencies do need to do, however, is have that holistic mindset. Unless it’s in a high-demand, ultra-high-tech specialist area (I’m thinking there might be some VR and AR developers and production houses that fit the bill here), these days it’s virtually impossible to succeed with a single specialised offering. Simply put, there are too many ways to get cut-through in this world of devolving channels, meaning marketers are extremely wary of putting all their eggs in one basket.
What’s more, while historically there has been a big push to differentiate the broad range of marketing options, the reality is so many of them go hand-in-hand.
If a PR agency is going to get a story placed, it has far more value if it has SEO strategy and backlinks worked into it. The client gets more value if the PR agency puts spend behind the story and amplifies it across social and other content platforms. If the client is looking for a certain outcome, then simply getting a news story is not always enough these days, and agencies need to be working with their clients and valued partners to generate an actual result, be it conversions, leads, genuine brand engagement, or whatever. This requires unconstrained thinking.
Of course, search and SEO might seem like disparate skillsets to PR, and a TVC is a hugely different beast to a piece of creative aimed at social channels, but the threads that link them are so prominent that to simply say ‘Oh no, we don’t do that’ is inviting clients to walk out the door.
If you are only going to have the one offering, you’d better have close relationships with other agencies that you can rely on to help provide a broader marketing mix.
Because that’s what’s becoming key to marketing these days – the mix. How does what you are offering fit in the broad marketing mix, at what point on the path to purchase does it target consumers and how does it move them further along?
You don’t need to own the whole path (though it helps), but you do need to show what it is that you nail down, how consumers will get to that point, and where they will go from there. Your plan needs to be mindful and illustrative of an integrated marketing approach.
It goes hand-in-hand with the increasingly popular idea of the death of ‘silos’. It’s easy to see marketing as a game played by two teams – the cool, creative types and the media boffins who crunch the numbers. But the reality is that the world has become far more complex – different teams need to be working together from the get-go if they are going to be as effective as possible, because a good idea based on bad stats isn’t going to work, just as all the stats in the world don’t make a shit idea a good one.
So, are we heading to a point where all agencies will be carbon copies of each other? No, it’s a blurring of boundaries – perhaps ‘integrated service’ is a better descriptor than ‘full-service’. What you need to determine is what kind of integrated service you’re going to offer, and how it all fits in the broad marketing mix.
The most important thing is to define what you do, and find different and interesting combinations, so you offer something unique (and effective) to the market.