What is a full-service marketing agency and why would you hire one?

by | Branding, Commentary, Marketing



In my last article, I discussed the definition of a marketing agency and how to select the right one. I used a simple analysis technique of identification and differentiation to sort out and simplify the various factors. Now I’m going to drill down a little deeper and discuss the competencies of a full-service agency and how to determine if you really need one.


What does ‘full-service’ mean anyway?

You may hear the term a lot and not really know what it means (even within our industry, the definition is fuzzy). Basically, a full-service marketing agency has all the capabilities required to deliver research, analysis, strategy, branding, and promotion of products or services for their clients in-house. And the “in-house” qualifier is key. It means those capabilities are properly staffed internally to deliver a service without having to sub-contract outside.


What’s so great about a full-service agency?

It’s all about the big picture. A full-service marketing firm will have a panoramic view of the project and make informed decisions regarding which strategies, channels, and tactics to employ.

(Sure, this could be done by hiring your agency under a general contractor model. But with an industry that focuses on ideas and continuity of messaging, this is not always the most efficient use of time and budget.)

A full-service agency will be able to hand-select the right people to collaborate on a project and carry it through as a team from beginning to end. Think of it as a custom team of specialists matched to your precise needs.

When you work with a vendor who has the in-house expertise to evaluate all the services you need to market your business, they’ll know what opportunities to take advantage of and what to avoid.

It’s important to note that a business hiring full-service marketing firm may not need every service they offer. However, even if they don’t utilize a particular service, they can still benefit from the knowledge and expertise in that area. This wide range of expertise is meant to ensure you receive the right mix of promotional tactics often referred to as a “marketing mix”. For example, making sure you don’t spend too much time and effort on your website build or producing content just to end up short of resources to optimize, promote via paid media, social influencers or public relations.


Costs of managing multiple vendors

It may appear logical and safe to hire individual, niche vendors to meet each of your marketing requirements. Need to rank highest in Google? – hire an SEO agency that only does SEO. This approach may seem to come with the least amount of risk and deliver the highest reward. After all, having a partner that eats and sleeps SEO has to be the best decision, right? Need an overall marketing strategy? Branding? How about paid media? And don’t forget social. You’re basically going to need a niche expert in every field.

And in that scenario, YOU become the general contractor. The cost and resources spent on managing those multiple vendors starts to add up and you may lose your original perceived advantage – their efficiency.

Troubleshooting, communicating and measuring the impact and effectiveness in multiple vendors is costly and time-consuming. Worst of all it distracts employees and their ability to focus on the big picture by shifting their focus from core business responsibilities.

When you manage multiple vendors it can be difficult or impossible to understand who is accountable for what. For example, if you aren’t getting the SEO results that you were expecting and your SEO agency is pointing the finger at your creative agency and vice versa.

This lack of centralized responsibility can lead to confusion, excessive administration costs, a lack of accountability and redundant vendor tasks.


A Partner not  just a Vendor

Full-service marketing agencies aren’t limited to pushing one solution to fit any situation and have the strategic resources to make sure you are on track to meet your goals. It’s an objective commitment to doing what’s best for your marketing challenges.

When a vendor becomes a partner, they’re with you at every step. They share in the risks and benefits of the projects they undertake for their clients. Partnerships require a close-knit working relationship where both parties understand and trust each other. A true partner will provide recommendations that address your business goals and objectives, working hand in hand and digging deep for you.

This type of deep engagement helps partners truly understand your unique business goals which should lead to more growth and strategic solutions.

It boils down to this: Given the potential complexity of some campaigns, there’s a real risk of employing multiple, niche vendors. They may instinctively fall back to recommending what they know best, are most comfortable delivering, and what’s most profitable for them.

Your marketing challenges are varied and unique. If you hire a bunch of hammers, a lot your problems will start to look like nails.



Steve Lee

Director, Digital Strategy

Steve is a high-impact digital strategist with a creative yet systematic nature. He optimizes the performance of all things digital to successfully connect people with relevant communications at scale.