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How to tell if you need a full-service or specialist marketing agency

Posted by Ryan Nofal on August 25, 2021 at 9:00 AM
Ryan Nofal

There are many marketing agencies in South Africa. But, should you choose an integrated marketing agency or specialist agency to suit your overall needs and business requirements?


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Congratulations! You’ve decided to outsource your marketing (we know that the outsource vs. in-house marketing decision is never easy). Now that you’re certain that working with an agency is the right choice for your business, the next big question is: should I work with a full-service agency or do I need a specialist agency?

Full-service, integrated marketing agency vs. a specialist agency

There’s often a debate in the marketing world around the benefits of hiring a full-service, integrated marketing agency or a specialist agency (e.g. a social media agency). 

The truth is there are advantages and drawbacks to both options. 

The key to choosing the right type of marketing agency for your business comes down to a few simple questions:

  • How established is my brand?
  • What is my marketing budget?
  • Do I want to run a once-off campaign or will this be a long-term, ongoing strategy?
  • Will my brand be running multi-channel campaigns or focussing on a single platform?

Asking yourself these questions will help you understand what you need from an agency. This will help you make a better informed choice when you decide which agencies to include in your selection process. 

We will discuss this in more detail a bit later on in this article, but first let’s clarify the difference between an integrated marketing agency and a specialist agency. 

The difference between an integrated agency and a specialist agency

The term “specialist” is in fact a bit confusing - this leads you to believe that a full-service, integrated agency are in some way generalists. This is completely untrue! 

What does an integrated marketing agency do?

Full-service, integrated marketing agencies offer all kinds of marketing services including:

  • Strategy
  • Branding
  • Creative
  • Production
  • Events and activations
  • Traditional media buying and planning
  • Digital media buying and planning
  • Social media management
  • Inbound marketing
  • Direct marketing

Each of these departments is made up of experts within these fields - so essentially, an integrated marketing agency gives you access to multiple specialists under one roof. 

What does a specialist agency do?

Specialist marketers focus on a single marketing channel or service. So, for example, you could work with a creative boutique for design. This will be the only service that the agency offers - so you may need to work with additional agencies should you wish to outsource other parts of your marketing.

How to choose whether you need an integrated or specialist marketing agency

Jumping back to our four questions, you can use the following guidelines to help you decide what type of agency you need to be looking for.

How established is my brand?

Sometimes, the age and size of your business may dictate what type of agency you need for you. Start-ups, for example, are unlikely to be able to afford to successfully run integrated marketing campaigns. 

If your brand is relatively young you will probably get the most bang for your buck working with a specialist agency until you are ready to upscale your marketing efforts. That leads into our next point...

What is my marketing budget?

If your total marketing budget is less than R50 000 per month, chances are you would be better off running a more focussed campaign via a single channel (e.g. social media). This avoids the pitfalls of stretching your budget too thinly and will deliver a better return on investment (ROI). 

This doesn’t rule out an integrated agency - but it does mean you’d only be making immediate use of one department. 

Do I want to run a once-off campaign or will this be a long-term, ongoing strategy?

If you have an in-house marketing department and are only looking to run a once-off campaign then you could work with any agency that can deliver the work. In this case, it would make sense to opt for a specialist agency.

If your plan is to work with an outsourced agency to implement a long-term, ongoing marketing strategy then you may want to consider a full-service agency. While you may start working with an agency to run a social media campaign, for example, your needs may grow and change over time. 

An integrated marketing agency offers the benefit of housing a multitude of services under one roof. So, if your needs or budget change and you decide to upscale or pivot your marketing efforts, you can do so without having to change suppliers. 

Working with a specialist agency limits you in this respect. If you need something outside of their area of expertise, you would need to either change suppliers or find an additional supplier to work with. This comes with a few challenges:

  • Managing multiple suppliers
  • Trying to get suppliers to work effectively and collaboratively together
  • Establishing how to split your marketing budget. With multiple suppliers, each will be looking to upsell their services which may dilute the efficacy of your marketing efforts 

Will my brand be running multi-channel campaigns or focussing on a single platform?

This one speaks to the point above - if you’re working across multiple marketing channels, an integrated marketing agency is a no brainer. 

Working with a single supplier means you have a single client service person to deal with (rather than multiple client service people), and they will advise you on where you’ll get the best results. Your marketing budget will be channeled to activities that contribute most to growing your bottom line, as it’s more objectively distributed to areas that perform well. 

Read our article, 9 advantages of using your client service, to understand why your agency client service team can add tremendous value to your business.

The benefits of partnering with Penquin

If you decide that a full-service, integrated marketing agency is the right choice for your business, we’d love to partner with you

Penquin is a very unique agency. Not only are we an award-winning full-service agency, we’re also independently owned - which is rare in South Africa. Partnering with us gives you the best of both worlds: big agency benefits (everything you need under one roof) without sacrificing on personalised service. 

If you’d like to meet with us to discuss how we can help you achieve your business goals with a results-driven approach to marketing, feel free to drop us a line.

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Topics: Marketing, agency

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