As the economy lurches back into a semblance of normalcy, marketing agencies are focusing on a full-service suite of offerings to help brands regain their footing amid all the noise. The demands of the market are fierce right now, and keeping clients happy is going to take an agency roster that goes well beyond capabilities and enters the realm of true expertise.
With the rivers of commerce beginning to flow again, companies have found themselves with a powerful need for marketing agencies capable of tackling their needs holistically. Pressure has started to build on companies to stand out and catch the wave of returning business, and this has translated to increased scrutiny on marketing efforts that won’t allow agencies to skirt by with anything less than expertise that runs both wide and deep.
Too often, agency “capabilities” are notably shallower in reality than they appear in a proposal deck. Many agencies that excel in one key area, such as public relations, offer other services, such as social media or SEO, even though the secondary offerings are given the bare minimum to qualify it as a true capability. This can take many forms – a young PR coordinator doubling as a social media “expert” or graphic designer; a social media manager pulling double duty as an SEO guru or perhaps a single overworked employee representing an entire advertising department.
These paper-thin approaches to “full service” have been a favorite for many agencies looking to grow business and upsell critical offerings while cutting costs, but ultimately don’t lend themselves to comprehensive strategy and execution. This results in subpar service for the client and reflect poorly on the agency, itself. The demand for holistic marketing is only growing, and so too is the need for agencies to offer not just breadth, but depth that lives up to how they present themselves.
It’s one thing to offer everything under one roof, but quite another to offer everything at a competent, competitive level. The pressures to grow wide have existed for years and are a direct cause of agencies rushing to attain full-service capabilities. The new surge of demand for holistic marketing will bring with it new pressures that scrutinize the depth of an agency’s expertise. Today and especially in the near future, success for agencies will be synonymous with “agency-deep” expertise across the board that goes well beyond pinning a division on either a vendor or a skeleton crew.
Offering up a cornucopia of capabilities is something almost any company can do – after all, a “capability” just means that you can fulfil a task to the degree it can be considered done. Whether it’s PR, SEO, social media, creative, experiential or anything else, there are common misconceptions in the industry that just checking the box is sufficient, when the reality is each one of these offerings has enough nuances and complexities to fill an entire career of mastery.
Consider the earlier example of a PR coordinator being tasked with also handling a client’s social needs. A common trap is making the mistake of assuming that anyone who frequently uses social media can handle making posts for a client. While it’s true that almost anyone could have this “capability,” it completely ignores the expertise and level of understanding required to meet a desired business outcome.
While the PR coordinator might be able to put a social post together, load it with keywords and even make it look pretty, they would likely lack the detailed understanding of the everchanging algorithms across the different social platforms that would prove essential in giving the post visibility. Just like PR, SEO and every other marketing specialty, there is a flow to success that can only be understood by a full-fledged, dedicated professional.
Building agency depth
Regardless of how established an agency is, the most important thing is to do everything at scale. If a given agency wants to say they offer PR, social media and SEO, there needs to be a commensurate quality for each offering. To meet the needs of the market, having both depth and breadth should be the goal, but depth has to come first. Whatever the job may be, it should result in a consistent client experience driven by deep expertise.
The ideal version of this is a broad, multi-faceted agency that matches or exceeds the quality of specialists in each vertical. Strive for operational excellence above all else, and let the growth – both horizontally and vertically – come naturally.
Should an agency want to pursue a field in which it has little to no expertise, mergers and acqui-hires (acquiring a firm with the main purpose of folding in its employees rather than just its book of business) can present a great way to jump start the practice with proven teams and quickly establish a desirable level of depth. Of course, this may not always be on the table – agencies taking a steadier approach to growth would do well to set up carefully considered hiring triggers to support holistic growth. These triggers can be placed at certain revenue levels, ensuring the agency never gets too over- or under-staffed. In between these clearer thresholds, consider using freelancers as a “release valve” of sorts, alleviating pressure and allowing PR, social, SEO and other teams to ease in and out of these different operating levels.
Lastly, having a single agency-wide point person on each account carrying multiple disciplines with oversight across the board – including all offerings and their associated teams – helps enormously to keep open communication channels behind the varied, potentially disparate groups within the agency. This approach allows clearer, streamlined communication and greatly enhances the client experience if they’re partaking of multiple offerings. Perhaps even more importantly, it keeps all the teams across the agency – say, the PR and social divisions – in the loop as to what their counterparts are doing and allows an easy avenue for cross-team communication. Otherwise, agency depth is worth significantly less if all these expert teams are siloed and the right hand never knows what the left is doing.
Today’s market demands agency-deep expertise, and tomorrow’s market will require it – it’s up to agencies to take the steps today that will give them the edge they need to catch the wave and thrive among a client base that hungers for holistic service.
Chris Bretschger is the CEO of Bastion Amplify, a full-service social media marketing, public relations, digital and development agency based in California.