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Integration vs Specialisation: Here’s what the experts think

Posted by Veronica Wainstein on July 15, 2019 at 5:30 PM
Veronica Wainstein
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Integration vs specialisation

It’s an age-old debate: to outsource marketing efforts like graphic design, and focus on your core marketing skills, or do every single step in the marketing process yourself? Or, if you’re outsourcing all of your marketing, do you go with one agency that can knock out all of your marketing requirements, or do you select several niche agencies to tackle your different marketing requirements? In other words, is integration, or specialisation, the new way forward for the South African marketing industry? The answer is somewhat clearer, thanks to the Agency Scope South Africa study.

Agency Scope South Africa is a biannual study conducted by international research consultancy SCOPEN headed up by director and partner for SCOPEN Africa and CEO of the Independent Agency Search and Selection, Johanna McDowell. It’s an important study to understand the South African market and to evaluate global trends and opportunities.

The 2018 study focused on finding out whether marketers prefer working at an integrated agency or a specialised agency. The study asked 217 marketers what type of agency they are currently working with to meet their communication needs. According to Amplifier the results were that 51.5% of the respondents are currently working with an integrated agency and 41.9% work with specialised agencies.

Let’s quickly dig into the definitions: 

Integrated agency

Integrated agencies are exactly what they sound like: agencies that do multiple forms of advertising and marketing, all under one roof, thus integrating your marketing efforts. Disclaimer: Penquin is a loud and proud integrated agency that prides itself on our ability to deliver entire marketing campaigns, from off-the-line efforts to fully digital solutions. 

Specialised agency

Unlike an integrated agency, a specialised agency focuses on one area of marketing. This could be, like our sister agency Spitfire Inbound, focusing on a niche part of digital marketing (inbound marketing), or could even be focusing purely on digital and doing no offline activities at all. 

So why did this 51.5% decide to work with an integrated marketing agency? They say that integration meets all their communication needs. The 41.9% chose specialised marketing agencies because they want a specialist in each discipline.

What makes an integrated marketing agency?

Integrated marketing is about having a strategy to communicate with customers across different platforms in a carefully chosen and customer-centric way. Amplifier shows that many marketers think an integrated marketing agency consists of advertising, digital, marketing services and PR. Very few think events are part of integrated marketing.





Activation/ Sales Promotions




CRM/ Direct Marketing






Table from Amplifier

I couldn’t agree more with McDowell who says “ ...marketers have confirmed that they would love to find everything under one roof, they prefer to work with integrated agencies because it is time-saving and, in some ways, it saves them costs.” The idea is that ‘integration’ means that specialists in each field are under one roof, so access to multiple resources is painless at a ‘one-stop shop’.This speeds up delivery, and ensures good communication between the different people working on your marketing deliverables. As we know, it’s essential to communicate a consistent marketing message across your different channels, and this is easier if your social media (for example), video and above-the-line marketing teams are all talking to each other consistently. 

McDowell  adds to this: “One of the reasons for that is because particularly with the smaller-sized clients, they don’t want to split their ad-spend across three or four different agencies.”

What are the advantages of a specialised agency?

It’s understandable that some companies decide to go with a specialised agency. McDowell says that many chief marketing officers are aware that some agencies who provide integrated services don’t really have in-depth knowledge and skill for each specific area. (However, in my opinion, I don’t think this should impact a company’s decision to go with an integrated agency as the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.) 

“The paradox is that although they want everything in one place, there’s also still a need for specialisation, in digital particularly, when it comes to the more ‘business transformational’ work,” says McDowell in an interview with Bizcommunity. She goes on to say that what she considers to be”light digital” (social media, website banners, and the like) can be done in an integrated marketing agency.

In conclusion...

More companies are using integrated marketing now than compared to two years ago, when only 36.4% were working with an integrated agency.

As an integrated agency, Penquin has solved a lot of serious business marketing issues for big brands. You can read that in our Suzuki Ignis launch case study, which shows the success of having an integrated marketing agency.

See the success of integrated marketing in our blog post 3 examples of successful marketing integration.

However, if you are going to work with multiple specialist agencies, you need to be sure they are all focused on the same goal and are working toward the ultimate goal of integration for your campaigns, instead of each working in silos with their own agendas in mind.

More international companies are choosing integrated marketing so why not join this global trend? Contact us to get your integrated marketing journey started.

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Topics: Strategy

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