Integrate or disintegrate: Should you hire a number of specialist or singular marketing agency?

You may be fully bought in to the idea that communications and marketing are essential for the success of your business, but perhaps you’re reaching the stage where you are wondering if you have the time or internal capacity to handle it all in-house. Maybe you need to draw on the expertise and specialism of an agency?

But, with so many agencies out there, how can you decide which ones are the best fit for you?

More specifically, is it better to go for an integrated agency (i.e. one that offers services across the waterfront – marketing, digital, PR, advertising, events etc.) or work with a number of specialist agencies who focus on a single discipline or sector?

Growth industry

Deciding who to work with is made all the harder by the fact that there is no shortage of choice. Agencies are proliferating and more and more young talent is being attracted into communications careers. The PRCA recently found in its 2016 Census that the value of the UK PR and communications industry is worth a staggering £12.9bn, up by more than £3bn from when it was last measured in 2013. Over 80,000 people currently work in the industry.

The growth of the industry is something we can vouch for ourselves at the mission – we’re now the umbrella organisation for 14 different agencies employing 1,000 people. Some of our agencies are specialist and some are integrated; for example, we have sector and discipline specialist agencies, while we also have integrated agencies that cover a range of disciplines. However, our strength lies in the fact that as a Group, we can provide our clients with a full integrated service, with one point of contact, whatever their needs may be.

Different strokes

It is important from the start to select a lead agency to help a client establish a clear and compelling strategy and navigate them through the plethora of options out there to establish the campaign plan that is right for them.

Taking this approach will mean that communications are consistent and in sync with one another, by ensuring that all activities are based on a central objective or message. Where multiple unrelated suppliers are used, they very often fall down due to lack of direction, as everyone is working towards a different goal.

We recently canvassed the views of the leaders at our own agencies on this very topic. The result? It was agreed that an integrated approach is preferable for most clients who are looking for clear evidence of expertise across all channels and sector capability.

The majority of clients tend to prefer one agency or group of agencies that offers a variety of services across different disciplines, seeing the value of consolidating resources with a more integrated relationship.

Sectors and specialisms

Naturally, the agency that is right for a business will vary according to the sector and specialism of a company. If you are a retailer on a high street, your communication needs and challenges are going to be quite different to if you are the manufacturer of technical components, for example.

It will also depend on your priorities in terms of your communications strategy. Is your digital presence what you want to focus on? Or media relations and PR? Or is it a mix of advertising, events and conferences? Increasingly, it is all part of one inter-connected mix but nevertheless your choice of agency will naturally be influenced by where the balance of your priorities lie.

Whichever route you go down, you need to ensure that the agency is properly adding value to your business. An agency must have a good understanding of the client’s market and sector, be creative and fresh in its thinking, and have people who are likeable, positive, credible and passionate.

However, a successful relationship takes cooperation and trust from both sides of the fence. To be able to achieve the wider business goals, it is key that agencies are given the opportunity to understand what the commercial imperatives for the client are, and how their impact can be measured. To achieve this, businesses must be transparent with their agencies in terms of disclosing the wider business strategy and allowing them to get to the heart of the organisation from the start of a working relationship.

Ultimately, communications is a people business so relationships are important. You need to feel that your agency or agencies understand you, that there is some kind of connection between you and the people working there and that you are collectively working towards the same end goal. Appointing an agency that ‘gets’ your business really is half of the battle.

By David Morgan, Chairman, The Mission Marketing