The False Promise of Full-Service

And the benefits of smaller, more agile teams

The age-old question for brands when it comes to their marketing is whether it’s better to have one agency run it all or to break it up into multiple partners. There really is no right answer, but there are a few big things to consider. There will always be a multitude of agencies telling you they can handle it all for you. They’re an all-in-one, full-service shop. It sounds tempting, and again,there is no universal truth, but there are a lot of potential pitfalls. Avoiding them is critical to having a well-run marketing machine. 

So, what is right for you? Determining the best solution for your brand depends on a lot of things. But before we get into those, let’s consider an analogy.

The Limo Analogy 

Let’s imagine your marketing campaign is a big event you’re attending with your friends, like a prom, wedding or anniversary. There are eight of you, and you want everyone to arrive together, so you hire a limo. Easy peasy. Everyone is on time, the limo has plenty of room, and you pull right up in front of the venue and glide into the event, dazzling the other guests. 

 The mission is a success as you all arrive at the same place together, on time. 

When agencies claim to be able to provide everything under a full-service roof, oftentimes you end up on that bus ride, wishing you were in a limo.

Now imagine there are 50 of you. You could choose five limos, or you figure, why not a bus? The bus will be easier. Everyone in one vehicle, arriving at the same place at the same time. What could go wrong? So, the first thing you need is a place to meet up and somewhere to park that bus while people gather. All 50 people. Inevitably, some are running late, so you have to chase them down. Phone calls ensue: “Get here fast, or we’re leaving without you!” Everyone finally arrives. “Wait, where’s Aunt Sarah? The bathroom? Now??” Finally, you’re all on the bus and on your way. Halfway there, though, the bus takes a wrong turn, and it’s so big it can’t turn around. Instead, it needs to make a huge circle that takes you 15 minutes out of your way. Way behind schedule, you’re making phone calls to let everyone know you’re running late. The venue says it’s fine, but they can’t extend the end time. Finally, the bus arrives, but it doesn’t fit through the gate. So you all have to unload a quarter mile from the entrance and hike it the rest of the way – in 85-degree heat. This is not what you signed up for. Everyone arrived, eventually, but you’re frustrated, irritated and late, and you don’t look quite as good as you did when you started this adventure. Maybe this bus idea wasn’t as great as it sounded. 

When agencies claim to be able to provide everything under a full-service roof, oftentimes you end up on that bus ride, wishing you were in a limo. 

You start with brand creative you really like and what you think is plenty of time to hit all your important campaign dates, but you end up scrambling, delivering creative you don’t love nearly as much as you did at the beginning, late. That’s why it can be helpful to break up the work and allow agencies to focus on what they do best. More partners to manage? Sure. But those partners are better able to focus and hit the mark.

How Do You Decide? 

There are an incredible number of factors that go into it, of course, but the main consideration is this: Can one agency be an expert at all of the needs you have? Can your media agency execute great creative? Will your brand agency have an internal team capable of regularly delivering thousands of lower funnel ad units to drive your sales? The answer to both of those questions might be yes. Those groups probably exist somewhere, but more likely that’s not going to be the case, and portions of the work will be outsourced. 

Secondarily, you want to consider if you will need to rinse and repeat that need over and over again. If you are concerned about your full-life-cycle marketing and growing sales, then you most likely will need to. Will your full-service agency be able to maintain all that work over and over again? Are they going to be flexible enough to manage the non-stop flow of work that can change from month to month? 

The Final Word

At the end of the day, a full-service agency might work great, but then again, it might turn into a bad bus ride. Sometimes it’s just better to find smaller, more agile teams who can work seamlessly together with your brand agency, internal creative team, and/or your media agency. It can be helpful to have that powerful addition to the team who focuses on just one part of your business and does it really well. Sometimes, it’s better to get the five limos. They might be smaller than the bus, but they get you there in style, and the experience is simply better.